From a Bench in Our Square
by Samuel Hopkins Adams
THE HOUSE OF
THE GUARDIAN OF
FOR MAYME, READ
PLOOIE OF OUR
FROM A BENCH IN OUR SQUARE
Samuel Hopkins Adams
A PATRONESS OF ART
Peter (flourish-in-red) Quick (flourish-in-green) Banta
(period-in-blue) is the style whereby he is known to Our Square.
Summertimes he is a prop and ornament of Coney, that isle of the
blest, whose sands he models into gracious forms and noble sentiments,
in anticipation of the casual dime or the munificent quarter,
wherewith, if you have low, Philistine tastes or a kind heart, you have
perhaps aforetime rewarded him. In the off-season the thwarted passion
of color possesses him; and upon the flagstones before Thornsen's Elite
Restaurant, which constitutes his canvas, he will limn you a
full-rigged ship in two colors, a portrait of the heavyweight champion
in three, or, if financially encouraged, the Statue of Liberty in four.
These be, however, concessions to popular taste. His own predilection
is for chaste floral designs of a symbolic character borne out and
expounded by appropriate legends. Peter Quick Banta is a devotee of his
Giving full run to his loftier aspirations, he was engaged, one
April day, upon a carefully represented lilac with a butterfly about to
light on it, when he became cognizant of a ragged rogue of an urchin
regarding him with a grin. Peter Quick Banta misinterpreted this sign
“What d'ye think of that?” he said triumphantly, as he
sketched in a set of side-whiskers (presumably intended for antennae)
upon the butterfly.
“Rotten,” was the prompt response.
“What!” said the astounded artist, rising from his knees.
Peter Quick Banta applied the higher criticism to the urchin's
nearest ear. It was now that connoisseur's turn to be affronted.
Picking himself out of the gutter, he placed his thumb to his nose, and
wiggled his finger in active and reprehensible symbolism, whilst
enlarging upon his original critique, in a series of shrill roars:
“Rotten! Punk! No good! Swash! Flubdub! Sacre tas de—de—piffle!”
Already his vocabulary was rich and plenteous, though, in those days,
tainted by his French origin.
He then, I regret to say, spat upon the purple whiskers of the
butterfly and took refuge in flight. The long stride of Peter Quick
Banta soon overtook him. Silently struggling he was haled back to the
profaned temple of Art.
“Now, young feller,” said Peter Quick Banta. “Maybe you think you
could do it better.” The world-old retort of the creative artist to his
“Any fool could,” retorted the boy, which, in various forms, is
almost as time-honored as the challenge.
Suspecting that only tactful intervention would forestall possible
murder, I sauntered over from my bench. But the decorator of sidewalks
had himself under control.
“Try it,” he said grimly.
The boy avidly seized the crayons extended to him.
“You want me to draw a picture? There?”
“If you don't, I'll break every bone in your body.”
The threat left its object quite unmoved. He pointed a crayon at
Peter Quick Banta's creation.
“What is that? A bool-rush?”
“It's a laylock; that's what it is.”
“And the little bird that goes to light—”
“That ain't a bird and you know it.” Peter Quick Banta breathed
hard. “That's a butterfly.”
“I see. But the lie-lawc, it drop—so!” The gesture was inimitable.
“And the butterfly, she do not come down, plop! She float—so!” The
grimy hands fluttered and sank.
“They do, do they? Well, you put it down on the sidewalk.”
From that moment the outside world ceased to exist for the urchin.
He fell to with concentrated fervor, while Peter Quick Banta and I
diverted the traffic. Only once did he speak:
“Yellow,” he said, reaching, but not looking up.
Silently the elder artist put the desired crayon in his hand. When
the last touches were done, the boy looked up at us, not boastfully,
but with supreme confidence.
“There!” said he.
It was crude. It was ill-proportioned. The colors were raw. The
arrangements were false.
But—the lilac bloomed. And—the butterfly hovered.
The artist had spoken through his ordained medium and the presentment
of life stood forth. I hardly dared look at Peter Quick Banta. But
beneath his uncouth exterior there lay a great and magnanimous soul.
“Son,” said he, “you're a wonder. Wanta keep them crayons?”
Unable to speak for the moment, the boy took off his ragged cap in
one of the most gracious gestures I have ever witnessed, raising
dog-like eyes of gratitude to his benefactor. Tactfully, Peter Quick
Banta proceeded to expound for my benefit the technique of the drawing,
giving the youngster time to recover before the inevitable questioning
“Where did you learn that?”
“Nowhere. Had a few drawing lessons at No. 19.”
“Would you like to work for me?”
Peter Quick Banta pointed to the sidewalk.
“That?” The boy laughed happily. “That ain't work. That's fun.”
So the partnership was begun, the boy, whose name was Julien Tennier
(soon simplified into Tenney for local use), sharing Peter Quick
Banta's roomy garret. Success, modest but unfailing, attended it from
the first appearance of the junior member of the firm at Coney Island,
where, as the local cognoscenti still maintain, he revolutionized the
art and practice of the “sand-dabs.” Out of the joint takings grew a
bank account. Eventually Peter Quick Banta came to me about the boy's
“He's a swell,” said Peter Quick Banta. “Look at that face! I don't
care if he did crawl outa the gutter. I'm an artist and I reco'nize
aristocracy when I see it. And I want him brung up accordin'.”
So I inducted the youngster into such modest groves of learning as
an old, half-shelved pedagogue has access to, and when the Bonnie
Lassie came to Our Square to make herself and us famous with her tiny
bronzes (this was before she had captured, reformed, and married Cyrus
the Gaunt), I took him to her and he fell boyishly and violently in
love with her beauty and her genius alike, all of which was good for
his developing soul. She arranged for his art training.
“But you know, Dominie,” she used to say, wagging her head like a
profound and thoughtful bird; “this is all very foolish and
shortsighted on my part. Five years from now that gutter-godling of
yours will be doing work that will make people forget poor little me
and my poor little figurines.”
To which I replied that even if it were true, instead of the veriest
nonsense, about Julien Tenney or any one else ever eclipsing her, she
would help him just the same!
But five years from then Julien had gone over to the Philistines.
Justly catalogued, Roberta Holland belonged to the idle rich. She
would have objected to the latter classification, averring that, with
the rising cost of furs and automobile upkeep, she had barely enough to
keep her head above the high tide of Fifth Avenue prices. As to
idleness, she scorned the charge. Had she not, throughout the war,
performed prodigious feats of committee work, all of it meritorious and
some of it useful? She had. It had left her with a dangerous and
destructive appetite for doing good to people. Aside from this, Miss
Roberta was a distracting young person. Few looked at her once without
wanting to look again, and not a few looked again to their undoing.
Being-done-good-to is, I understand, much in vogue in the purlieus
of Fifth Avenue where it is practiced with skill and persistence by a
large and needy cult of grateful recipients. Our Square doesn't take to
it. As recipients we are, I fear, grudgingly grateful. So when Miss
Holland transferred her enthusiasms and activities to our far-away
corner of the world she met with a lack of response which might have
discouraged one with a less new and superior sense of duty to the lower
orders. She came to us through the Bonnie Lassie, guardian of the
gateway from the upper strata to our humbler domain, who—Pagan that
she is!—indiscriminately accepts all things beautiful simply for their
beauty. Having arrived, Miss Holland proceeded to organize us with all
the energy of high-blooded sweet-and-twenty and all the imperiousness
of confident wealth and beauty. She organized an evening sewing-circle
for women whose eyelids would not stay open after their long day's
work. She formed cultural improvement classes for such as Leon
Coventry, the printer, who knows half the literatures of the world, and
MacLachan, the tailor, to whom Carlyle is by way of being light
reading. She delivered some edifying exhortations upon the subject of
Americanism to Polyglot Elsa, of the Elite Restaurant (who had taken
upon her sturdy young shoulders the support of an old mother and a
paralytic sister, so that her two brothers might enlist for the war—a
detail of patriotism which the dispenser of platitudes might have
learned by judicious inquiry). And so forth and so on. Miss Roberta
Holland meant well, but she had many things to learn and no master to
Yet when the flu epidemic returned upon us, she stood by, efficient,
deft, and gallant, though still imperious, until the day when she
clashed her lath-and-tinsel sword of theory against the tempered steel
of the Little Red Doctor's experience. Said the Little Red Doctor (who
was pressed for time at the moment): “Take orders. Or get out. Which?”
She straightened like a soldier. “Tell me what you want done.”
At the end of the onset, when he gave her her release from volunteer
service, she turned shining eyes upon him. “I've never been so treated
in my life! You're a bully and a brute.”
“You're a brick,” retorted the Little Red Doctor. “I'll send for you
next time Our Square needs help.”
“I'll come,” said she, and they shook hands solemnly.
Thereafter Our Square felt a little more lenient toward her
ministrations, and even those of us who least approved her activities
felt the stir of radiance and color which she brought with her.
On a day when the local philanthropy market was slack, and Miss
Holland, seated in the Bonnie Lassie's front window, was maturing some
new and benign outrage upon our sensibilities, she called out to the
sculptress at work on a group:
“There's a queer man making queer marks on your sidewalk.”
“That's Peter Quick Banta. He's a fellow artist.”
“And another man, young, with a big, maney head like an amiable
lion; quite a beautiful lion. He's making more marks.”
“Let him make all he wants.”
“They're waving their arms at each other. At least the queer man is.
I think they're going to fight.”
“They won't. It's only an academic discussion on technique.”
“Who is the young one?”
“He's the ruin of what might have been a big artist.”
“No! Is he? What did it? Drink?”
“Does he look it?”
The window-gazer peered more intently at the debaters below. “It's a
peculiar face. Awfully interesting, though. He's quite poorly dressed.
Does he need money? Is that what's wrong?”
“That's it, Bobbie,” returned the Bonnie Lassie with a half-smile.
“He needs the money.”
The rampant philanthropist stirred within Miss Roberta Holland's
fatally well-meaning soul. “Would it be a case where I could help? I'd
love to put a real artist back on his feet. Are you sure he's real?”
On the subject of Art, the Bonnie Lassie is never anything but
sincere and direct, however much she may play her trickeries with
lesser interests, such as life and love and human fate.
“No; I'm not. If he were, I doubt whether he'd have let himself go
“Perhaps it isn't too late,” said the amateur missionary hopefully.
“Is he a man to whom one could offer money?”
The Bonnie Lassie's smile broadened without change in its subtle
quality. “Julien Tenney isn't exactly a pauper. He just thinks he can't
afford to do the kind of thing he wants and ought to.”
“What ought he to do?”
“Paint—paint—paint!” said the Bonnie Lassie vehemently. “Five
years ago I believe he had the makings of a great painter in him. And
now look what he's doing!”
“Making marks on sidewalks, you mean?”
“Worse. Commercial art.”
“Designs and that sort of thing?”
“Do you ever look at the unearthly beautiful, graceful and
gloriously dressed young super-Americans who appear in the
advertisements, riding in super-cars or wearing super-clothes or
brushing super-teeth with super-toothbrushes?”
“I suppose so,” said the girl vaguely.
“He draws those.”
“Is that what you call pot-boiling?”
“And I suppose it pays just a pittance.”
“Well,” replied the Bonnie Lassie evasively, “he sticks to it, so it
must support him.”
“Then I'm going to help him.”
“'To fulfill his destiny,' is the accepted phrase,” said the Bonnie
Lassie wickedly. “I'll call him in for you to look over. But you'd best
leave the arrangements for a later meeting.”
Being summoned, Julien Tenney entered the house as one quite at home
despite his smeary garb of the working artist. His presentation to Miss
Holland was as brief as it was formal, for she took her departure at
“Who is she?” asked Julien, staring after her.
“Bobbie Holland, a gilded butterfly from uptown.”
“What's she doing here?”
“O Lord!” said he in pained tones. “Has she got a Cause?”
“There ain't no sich a animile.”
“There is. She's a patron of art.”
“Yes. She's going to patronize you.”
“Not if I see her first. How do I qualify as a subject?”
“She considered you a wasted life.”
“Where does she get that idea?”
The Bonnie Lassie removed a small, sharp implement from the left eye
of a stoical figurine and pointed it at herself.
“Do you think that's fair?” demanded the indignant youth.
The Bonnie Lassie reversed the implement and pointed it at him. “Do
you or do you not,” she challenged, “invade our humble precincts in a
“It's my only extravagance.”
“Do you or do you not maintain a luxurious apartment in Gramercy
Park, when you are not down here posing in your attic as an honest
“Oh, see here, Mrs. Staten, I won't stand for that!” he
expostulated. “You know perfectly well I keep my room here because it's
the only place I can work in quietly—”
“And because Peter Quick Banta would break his foolish old heart if
you left him entirely,” supplemented the sculptress.
Julien flushed and stood looking like an awkward child. “Did you
tell all this stuff to Miss Holland?” he asked.
“Oh, no! She thinks that your pot-boiling is a desperate and barely
sufficient expedient to keep the wolf from the door. So she is planning
to help you realize your destiny.”
“Which is?” he queried with lifted brows.
“To be a great painter.”
The other winced. “As you know, I've meant all along, as soon as
I've saved enough—”
“Oh, yes; I know,” broke in the Bonnie Lassie, who can be
quite ruthless where Art is concerned, “and you know; but time
flies and hell is paved with good intentions, and if you want to be
that kind of a pavement artist—well, I think Peter Quick Banta is a
“Do you suppose she'd let me paint her?” he asked abruptly.
If statuettes could blink, the one upon which the Bonnie Lassie was
busied would certainly have shrouded its vision against the dazzling
radiance of her smile, for this was coming about as she had planned it
from the moment when she had caught the flash of startled surprise and
wonder in his eyes, as they first rested on Bobbie Holland. Here, she
had guessed, might be the agency to bring Julien Tenney to his artistic
senses; and even so it was now working out. But all she said was—and
she said it with a sort of venomous blandness—“My dear boy, you can't
“Can't I! Just because I'm a little out of practice—”
“Two years, isn't it, since you've touched a palette?”
“Give me a chance at such a model as she is! That's all I ask.”
“Do you think her so pretty?” inquired the sculptress disparagingly.
“Pretty? She's the loveliest thing that—” Catching his hostess's
smile he broke off. “You'll admit it's a well-modeled face,” he said
professionally; “and—and—well, unusual.”
“Pooh! 'Dangerous' is the word. Remember it,” warned the Bonnie
Lassie. “She's a devastating whirlwind, that child, and she comes down
here partly to get away from the wreckage. Now, if you play your part
“I'm not going to play any part.”
“Then it's all up. How is a patroness of Art going to patronize you,
unless you're a poor and struggling young artist, living from hand to
mouth by arduous pot-boiling? You won't have to play a part as far as
the pot-boiling goes,” added his monitress viciously. “Only, don't let
her know that the rewards of your shame run to high-powered cars and
high-class apartments. Remember, you're poor but honest. Perhaps she'll
give you money.”
“Perhaps she won't,” retorted the youth explosively.
“Oh, it will be done tactfully; never fear. I'll bring her around to
see you and you'll have to work the sittings yourself.”
As a setting for the abode of a struggling beginner, Julien's attic
needed no change. It was a whim of his to keep it bare and simple. He
worked out his pictorial schemes of elegance best in an environment
where there was nothing to distract the eye. One could see that Miss
Roberta Holland, upon her initial visit, approved its stark and cleanly
poverty. (Yes, I was there to see; the Bonnie Lassie had taken me along
to make up that first party.) Having done the honors, Julien dropped
into the background, and presently was curled up over a drawing-board,
sketching eagerly while the Bonnie Lassie and I held the doer of good
deeds in talk. Now the shrewd and able tribe of advertising managers do
not pay to any but a master-draughtsman the prices which “J.T.”—with
an arrow transfixing the initials—gets; and Julien was as deft and
rapid as he was skillful. Soon appreciating what was in progress, the
visitor graciously sat quite still. At the conclusion she held out her
hand for the cardboard.
To be a patroness of Art does not necessarily imply that one is an
adequate critic. Miss Holland contemplated what was a veritable little
gem in black-and-white with cool approbation.
“Quite clever,” she was pleased to say. “Would you care to sell it?”
“I don't think it would be exactly—” A stern glance from the Bonnie
Lassie cut short the refusal. He swallowed the rest of the sentence.
“Would ten dollars be too little?” asked the visitor with bright
“Too much,” he murmured. (The Bonnie Lassie says that with a little
crayoning and retouching he could have sold it for at least fifty times
The patroness delicately dropped a bill on the table.
“Could you some day find time to let me try you in oils?” he asked.
“Does that take long?” she said doubtfully. “I'm very busy.”
“You really should try it, Bobbie,” put in the crafty Bonnie Lassie.
“It might give him the start he needs.”
What arguments she added later is a secret between the two women,
but she had her way. The Bonnie Lassie always does. So the bare studio
was from time to time irradiated with Bobbie Holland's youthful
loveliness and laughter. For there was much laughter between those two.
Shrewdly foreseeing that this bird of paradise would return to the bare
cage only if it were made amusing for her, Julien exerted himself to
the utmost to keep her mind at play, and, as I can vouch who helped
train him, there are few men of his age who can be as absorbing a
companion as Julien when he chooses to exert his charm. All the time,
he was working with a passionate intensity on the portrait; letting
everything else go; tossing aside the most remunerative offers; leaving
his mail unopened; throwing himself intensely, recklessly, into this
one single enterprise. The fact is, he had long been starved for color
and was now satiating his soul with it. Probably it was largely
impersonal with him at first. The Bonnie Lassie, wise of heart that she
is, thinks so. But that could not last. Men who are not otherwise
safeguarded do not long retain a neutral attitude toward such creatures
of grace and splendor as Bobbie Holland.
Between them developed a curious relation. It was hardly to be
called friendship; he was not, to Bobbie's recognition, a habitant of
her world. Nor, certainly, was it anything more. Julien would as soon
have renounced easel and canvas as have taken advantage of her coming
to make love to her. In this waif of our gutters and ward of our
sidewalk artist inhered a spirit of the most punctilious and rigid
honor, the gift, perhaps, of some forgotten ancestry. More and more, as
the intimacy grew, he deserted his uptown haunts and stuck to the attic
studio above the rooms where, in the dawning days of prosperity, he had
installed Peter Quick Banta in the effete and scandalous luxury of two
rooms, a bath, and a gas stove. Yet the picture advanced slowly which
is the more surprising in that the exotic Bobbie seemed to find plenty
of time for sittings now. Between visits she took to going to the
Metropolitan Museum and conscientiously studying pictures and
catalogues with a view to helping her protege form sound artistic
tastes. (When the Bonnie Lassie heard that, she all but choked.) As for
“This is all very well,” he said, one day in the sculptress's
studio; “but sooner or later she's going to catch me at it.”
“What then?” asked the Bonnie Lassie, not looking up from her work.
“She'll go away.”
“Let her go. Your portrait will be finished meantime, won't it?”
“Oh, yes. That'll be finished.”
This time the Bonnie Lassie did look up. Immediately she looked back
“In any case she'll have to go away some day—won't she?”
“I suppose so,” returned he in a gloomy growl.
“I warned you at the outset, 'Dangerous,'“ she pointed out.
They let it drop there. As for the effect upon the girl of Julien
Tenny's brilliant and unsettling personality, I could judge only as I
saw them occasionally together, she lustrous and exotic as a budding
orchid, he in the non-descript motley of his studio garb, serenely
unconscious of any incongruity.
“Do you think,” I asked the Bonnie Lassie, who was sharing my bench
one afternoon as Julien was taking the patroness of Art over to where
her car waited, “that she is doing him as much good as she thinks she
is, or ought to?”
“Malice ill becomes one of your age, Dominie,” said the Bonnie
Lassie with dignity.
“I'm quite serious,” I protested.
“And very unjust. Bobbie is an adorable little person, when you know
“Does Julien know her well enough to have discovered a self-evident
“Only,” pursued my companion, ignoring the question, “she is bored
and a little spoiled.”
“So she comes down here to escape being bored and to get more
“Julien won't spoil her.”
“He certainly doesn't appear to bore her.”
“She's having the tables turned on her without knowing it. Julien is
doing her a lot of good. Already she's far less beneficent and
bountiful and all that sort of stuff.”
“Lassie,” said I, “what, if I may so express myself, is the big
“Slang is an execrable thing from a professed scholar,” she
reproved. “However, the big idea is that Julien is really painting. And
it's mine, that big idea.”
“Mightn't it be accompanied by a little idea to the effect that the
experience is likely to cost him pretty dear? What will be left when
Bobbie Holland goes?”
“Pooh! Don't be an oracular sphinx,” was all that I got for my
Nor did Miss Bobbie show any immediate symptoms of going. If the
painting seemed at times in danger of stagnation, the same could not be
said of the fellowship between painter and paintee. That nourished
along, and one day a vagrant wind brought in the dangerous element of
historical personalities. The wind, entering at the end of a session,
displaced a hanging above the studio door, revealing in bold script
upon the plastering Beranger's famous line:
“Dans un grenier qu'on est bien a vingt ans!”
“Did you write that there?” asked the girl.
“Seven long years ago. And meant it, every word.”
“How did you come to know Beranger?”
“I'm French born.”
“'In a garret how good is life at twenty,'“ she translated freely.
“I wouldn't have thought”—she turned her softly brilliant regard upon
him—“that life had been so good to you.”
“It has,” was the rejoinder. “But never so good as now.”
“I've often wondered—you seem to know so many things—where you got
“Here and there and everywhere. It's only a patchwork sort of
thing.” (Ungrateful young scoundrel, so to describe my two-hours-a-day
of brain-hammering, and the free run of my library.)
“You're a very puzzling person,” said she And when a woman says that
to a man, deep has begun to call to deep. (The Bonnie Lassie, who knows
everything, is my authority for the statement.)
To her went the patroness of Art, on leaving Julien's “grenier” that
“Cecily,” she said, in the most casual manner she could contrive,
“who is Julien Tenney?”
“You know what I mean,” pleaded the girl. “What is he?”
“A brand snatched from the pot-boiling,” returned the Bonnie Lassie,
quite pleased with her next turn, which was more than her companion
“Please don't be clever. Be nice and tell me—”
“'Be nice, sweet maid, and let who will be clever,'“ declaimed the
Bonnie Lassie, who was feeling perverse that day. “You want me to
define his social status for you and tell you whether you'd better
invite him to dinner. You'd better not. He might swallow his knife.”
“You know he wouldn't!” denied the girl in resentful tones. “I've
never known any one with more instinctive good manners. He seems to go
“All due to my influence and training,” bragged the Bonnie Lassie.
“I helped bring him up.”
“Then you must know something of his antecedents.”
“Ask the Dominie. He says that Julien crawled out of a gutter with
the manners of a preux chevalier. Anyway, he never swallowed any
of my knives. Though he's had plenty of opportunity.”
“It's very puzzling,” lamented Bobbie.
“Why let it prey like a worm i' the bud of your mind? You're not
going to adopt him, perhaps?”
For the moment Bobbie Holland's eyes were dreamy and her tongue
unguarded. “I don't know what I'm going to do with him,” said she with
a gesture as of one who despairingly gives over an insoluble problem.
“Umph!” said the Bonnie Lassie.
And continued sculpting.
As Julien had prophesied, it was only a question of time when he
would be surprised by his patroness in his true garb and estate. The
event occurred as he was stepping from his touring-car to get his
golf-clubs from the hallway of his Gramercy Park apartment at the very
moment when Bobbie Holland emerged from the house next door. Both her
hands flew involuntarily to her cheeks, as she took in and wholly
misinterpreted his costume, which is not to be wondered at when one
considers the similarity of a golfing outfit to a chauffeur's livery.
“Oh!” she cried out, as if something had hurt her.
Julien, for once startled out of his accustomed poise, uncovered and
looked at her apprehensively.
Her voice quivered a little as she asked, very low, “Do you have
to do that?”
“Why—er—no,” began the puzzled Julien, who failed for the moment
to perceive what of tragic portent inhered in a prospective afternoon
of golf. Her next words enlightened him.
“I should think you might have let me help before taking
“It's an honest occupation,” he averred.
“Do you do this—regularly?” she pursued with an effort.
“Off and on. There's good money in it.”
“Oh!” she mourned again. Then: “You're doing this so that you can
afford to buy paints and canvas and—and things to paint me,” she
accused. “It isn't fair!”
“I'd do worse than this for that,” he declared valiantly.
Less than a fortnight later she caught him doing worse. She had
ceased to speak to him of his chauffeurdom because it seemed to cause
him painful embarrassment. (It did, and should have!) There had been a
big theater party, important enough to get itself detailed in the
valuable columns which the papers devote to such matters, and afterward
supper at the most expensive uptown restaurant, Miss Roberta Holland
being one of the listed guests. As she took her place at the table, she
caught a glimpse of an unmistakable figure disappearing through the
waiter's exit. And Julien Tenney, who had risen from his little supper
party of four (stag) hastily but just too late, on catching sight of
her, saw that he was recognized. Flight, instant and permanent, had
been his original intent. Now it would not do. Bolder measures must be
devised. He appealed to the head-waiter to help him carry out a joke,
and that functionary, developing a sense of humor under the stimulus of
a twenty-dollar bill, procured him on the spot an ill-fitting coat and
a black string tie, and gave him certain simple directions. When the
patroness of Art next observed the object of her patronage, he was
performing the humble but useful duties of an omnibus.
Miss Holland suddenly lost a perfectly good and hitherto reliable
Nor was she the only member of the supper party to develop symptoms
of shock. The gilded and stalwart youth on her left, following her
glance, stared at the amateur servitor with protruding eyes, ceased to
eat or drink, and fell into a state of semi-coma, muttering at
intervals an expressive monosyllable.
“Why not swear out loud, Caspar?” asked Bobbie presently. “It'll do
you less harm.”
“D'you see that chap over yonder? The big, fine-looking one fixing
“Yes,” said Bobbie faintly.
“Well, that's—No, by thunder, it can't be!—Yes, by the red-hot
hinges, it is!“
“Do you think you know him?”
“Know him! I know him? He bunked in with me for two weeks at
Grandpre. He was captain of a machine-gun outfit sent down to help us
clean out that little wasp's nest. His name's Tenney, and if ever there
was a hellion in a fight! And see—what he's come to! My God!”
“Well, don't cry about it,” advised the girl, serenely, though it
was hard for her to keep her voice steady. “There's nothing to do about
it, is there?”
“Isn't there!” retorted the youth, rising purposefully. “I'm going
to get him and find him a job that's fit for him if I have to take him
into partnership. Of all the dash-blanked-dod-blizzened—”
“Caspar! What are you going to do? Don't. You'll embarrass him
But he was already heading off his prey at the exit. Bobbie saw her
painter's face flame into welcome, then stiffen into dismay. The pair
vanished beyond the watcher's ken. On his return the gilded youth
behaved strangely. From time to time he shook his head. From time to
time he chuckled. And, while Bobbie was talking to her other neighbor,
he shot curious and amused glances at her. He told her nothing. But his
interest in his supper returned. Bobbie's didn't.
To discuss the social aspects of menial service with a practitioner
of it who has been admitted to a certain implicit equality is a
difficult and delicate matter for a girl brought up in Roberta
Holland's school. Several times after the restaurant encounter she
essayed it; trying both the indirect approach and the method of extreme
frankness. Neither answered. Julien responded to her advances by
alternate moods of extreme gloom and slyly inexplicable amusement.
Bobbie gave it up, concluding that he was in a very queer mood, anyway.
She was right. He was.
The next episode of their progress took the form of a veritable
unmasking which, perversely enough, only fixed the mask tighter upon
Julien Tenney. By way of loosening up his wrist for the open season,
Peter Quick Banta had taken advantage of an amiable day to sketch out a
composite floral and faunal scheme on the flagging in front of
Thornsen's Elite Restaurant, when Miss Holland, in passing, paused to
observe and wonder. At the same moment, Julien hurrying around the
corner, all but ran her down. She nodded toward the decorator of
“Isn't he the funny man that you were with the first time I saw
“The very same,” responded Julien with twinkling eyes.
“What is he doing?”
“He's one of the few remaining examples of the sidewalk or
public-view school of art.”
“Yes, but what does he do it for?”
“Do people give him money for it? Do you think I might give him
something?” she asked, looking uncertainly at the artist, who, on hands
and knees and with tongue protruding, was putting a green head on a red
bird, too absorbed even to notice the onlookers.
“I think he'd be tickled pink.”
She took a quarter from her purse, hesitated, then slipped it into
her companion's hand.
“You give it to him. I think he'd like it better.”
“Oh, no; I don't think he'd like it at all. In fact, I doubt if he'd
take it from me.”
“Well, you see,” explained Julien blandly, “we're rather intimately
connected.” He raised his voice. “Hello, Dad!”
The decorator furled his tongue, lifted his head, changed his
crayon, replied, “Hello, Lad,” and continued his work. “What d' you
think of that?” he added, after a moment, triumphantly pointing
a yellow crayon at the green-headed red-bird.
“Some parrot!” enthused Julien.
“'T ain't a parrot. It's a nightingale,” retorted the artist
indignantly. “You black-and-white fellows never do understand color.”
“It's a corker, anyway,” said Julien. “Dad here's a—an art patron
who wants to contribute to the cause.”
The girl, whose face had become flushed and almost frightened, held
out her quarter.
“I—I—don't know,” she began. “I was interested in your picture and
I thought—Mr. Tenney said—”
Peter Quick Banta took the coin with perfect dignity. “Thank you,”
said he. “There ain't much appreciation of art just at this season. But
if you'll come down to Coney about June, I'll show you some
sand-modeling that is sand-modeling—'s much as five dollars a
day I've taken in there.”
Miss Holland recovered her social poise.
“I'd like to very much,” she said cheerfully.
She and Julien walked on in silence. Suddenly he laughed, a little
jarringly. “Well,” he said, “does that help you to place me?”
“I'm not trying to place you,” she answered.
“Is that quite true?” he mocked.
“No; it isn't. It's a downright lie,” said Bobbie finding courage to
raise her eyes to his.
“And now, I suppose, I shall be 'my good man' or something like
that, to you.”
“Do you think it likely?”
“You called MacLachan that, you know,” he reminded her.
“Long ago. When I was—when I didn't understand Our Square.”
“And now, of course, our every feeling and thought is an open book
to your penetrating vision.”
Her lip quivered. “I don't know why you should want to be so hateful
For a flashing second his eyes answered that appeal with a look that
thrilled and daunted her. “To keep from being something else that I've
no right to be,” he muttered.
“How many more sittings do you think it will take to finish the
picture?” she asked, striving to get on safer ground.
“Only one or two, I suppose,” he answered morosely.
Such was Julien's condition of mind after the last sitting that he
actually left the precious portrait unguarded by neglecting to lock the
door of the studio on going out, and the Bonnie Lassie and I, happening
in, beheld it in its fulfillment. A slow flush burned its way upward in
the Bonnie Lassie's face as she studied it.
“He's done it!” she exclaimed. “Flower and flame! Why did I ever
take to sculpture? One can't get that in the metal.”
“He's done it,” I echoed.
“Of course, technically, it's rather a sloppy picture.”
“It's a glorious picture!” I cried.
“Naturally that,” returned the exasperating critic. “It always will
be—when you paint with your heart's blood.”
“Do you think your friend Bobbie appreciates the medium in which
“If she doesn't—which she probably does,” said the Bonnie Lassie,
“she will find out something to her advantage when she sees me
to-morrow. I'm going home to 'phone her.”
In answer to the summons, Bobbie came. She looked, I thought, as I
saw her from my bench, troubled and perplexed and softened, and
glowingly lovely. At the door of the Bonnie Lassie's house she was met
with the challenge direct.
“What have you been doing to my artistic ward?”
“Nothing,” replied Bobbie with unwonted meekness, and to prove it
related the incidents of the touring-car, the supper at the Taverne
Splendide, and the encounter with the paternal colorist.
“That isn't Julien's father,” said the sculptress. “He's only an
adoptive father. But Julien adores him, as he ought to. The real
father, so I've heard, was a French gentleman—”
“I don't care who his father was!” cried Bobbie. (The Bonnie
Lassie's face took on the expression of an exclamation point.) “I can't
bear to think of his having to do servant's work. And I told him so
“Did you look like that while you were telling him?”
“Like what? I suppose so.”
“And what did he do?”
“Do? He didn't do anything.”
“Then,” pronounced the Bonnie Lassie, “he's a stick of
wood—hardwood—with a knot-hole for a heart.”
“He isn't! Well, perhaps he is. He was very horrid at the last.”
“About taking money.”
“I'm a prophetess! And you're a patroness. Born in us, I suppose.
You did try to give him money.”
“Just to loan it. Enough so that he could go away to study and
paint. He wouldn't even let me do that; so I—I—I offered to buy the
picture of me, and he said—he said—Cecily, do you think he's
sometimes a little queer in his head?”
“Not in the head, necessarily. What did he say?”
“He said he'd bought it himself at the highest price ever paid. And
he said it so obstinately that I saw it was no use, so I just told him
that I hoped I'd see him when I came back—”
“Back from where? Are you going away?”
“Yes; didn't I tell you? On a three months' cruise.”
“Had you told him that?”
“Of course. That's when I tried to get him to take the money.
Cecily—” The girl's voice shook a little. “You'll tell him, won't you,
that he must keep on painting?”
“Why? Doesn't he intend to?”
“He said he'd painted himself out and he didn't think he'd ever
look at color again.”
“He will,” said the Bonnie Lassie wisely and comfortably. “Grief is
just as driving a taskmaster as lo—as other emotions.”
“Grief!” The girl's color ebbed. “Cecily! You don't think I've hurt
The Bonnie Lassie caught her in a sudden hug.
“Bobbie, do you know what I'd do in your place?”
“I'd go right—straight—back to Julien Tenney's studio.” She paused
“Yes?” said the other faintly.
“And I'd walk right—straight—up to Julien Tenney—” Another pause,
even more impressive.
“I d-d-don't think I'd—he'd—”
“And I'd say to him: 'Julien, will you marry me?' Like that.”
“Oh!” said Bobbie in outraged amazement.
“And maybe—” continued the Bonnie Lassie judicially: “maybe I'd
kiss him. Yes. I think I would.”
Suddenly all the bright softness of Bobbie's large eyes dissolved in
tears. “You ought to be ashamed of yourself,” she sobbed.
“You won't be ashamed of yourself,” prophesied the other, “if
you do just as I say, quickly and naturally.”
“Oh, naturally,” retorted the girl in an indignant whimper. “I
suppose you think that's natural. Anyway, he probably doesn't care
about me at all that way.”
“Roberta,” said the sculptress sternly, “did you see his
portrait of you?”
“And you have the presumption to say that he doesn't care? Why, that
picture doesn't simply tell his secret. It yells it!”
“I don't care,” said the hard-pressed Bobbie. “It hasn't yelled it
to me. Nobody's yelled it to me. And I c-c-can't ask a m-m-man
“Perhaps you can't,” allowed her adviser magnanimously. “On second
thought, it won't be necessary. You just go back—after powdering your
nose a little—and say that you've come to see the picture once more,
or that it's a fine day, or that competition is the life of trade, or
that—oh, anything! And, if he doesn't do the rest, I'll kill and eat
“You would be a patroness of Art. Now I've given you
something real to patronize. Don't you dare fail me.” Suddenly the
speaker gave herself over to an access of mirth. “Heaven help that
young man when he comes to own up.”
“Own up to what?”
Having consumed a vain and repetitious half-hour in variations upon
her query, Bobbie gave it up and decided to find out for herself. It
was curiosity and curiosity alone (so she assured herself) that
impelled her to return for the last time (she assured herself of that,
also) to the attic.
A voice raised in vehement protest, echoing through the open door of
the studio, checked her on the landing below as she mounted.
“And you're actually going to let thirty-five thousand a year slip
through your fingers, just to pursue a fad?”
To which Julien's equable accents replied:
“That's it, Merrill. I'm going to paint.”
The unseen Merrill left a blessing (of a sort) behind, slammed the
door upon it, and materialized to the vision of the girl on the landing
as an energetic and spruce-looking man of forty-odd, with a harassed
expression. At need, Miss Holland could summon considerable
decisiveness to her aid.
“Would you think me inexcusably rude,” she said softly, “if I asked
who you are?”
The descending man snatched off his hat, stared, seemed on the point
of whistling, then, recovering himself, said courteously: “I'm George
Merrill, advertising manager for the Criterion Clothing Company.”
“And Mr. Tenney has been doing drawings for you?”
“He has. For several years.”
“So that,” said the girl, half to herself, “is his pot-boiling.”
“Not a very complimentary term,” commented Mr. Merrill, “for the
best black-and-white work being done in New York to-day. Between my
concern and two others he makes a railroad president's income out of
“Yes, I overheard what you said to him. Thank you so much.”
“In return, may I ask you something?”
“Will you not, for his own good, dissuade Mr. Tenney from throwing
away his career?”
“Why should you suppose me to have any influence with Mr. Tenney?”
Mr. Merrill's face was grave, as befitted the issue, but a twinkle
appeared at the corner of his glasses. “I've seen the portrait,” he
replied, and with a bow, went on his way.
Julien opened the door to her knock. She stepped inside, facing him
with bright, inscrutable eyes.
“Why have you been fooling me about your circumstances?” she
“D—-n Merrill!” said Julien with fervor.
“It's true that your 'pot-boiling' brings you a big income?”
“Then why do you take employment as a chauffeur?”
“I don't. That car belongs to me.”
“And your being a waiter? I don't suppose the Taverne Splendide
belongs to you?”
“An impromptu bit of acting,” confessed the abashed Julien.
“And this attic? Was that hired for the same comedy?”
“No. This is mine, really.”
“I don't understand. Why have you done it all?”
“If you want to know the truth,” he said defiantly, “so that I could
keep on seeing you.”
“That's a very poor excuse,” she retorted.
“The best in the world. As a successful commercial artist, what
possible interest would you have taken in me? You took me for a
struggling young painter—that was the Bonnie Lassie's fault, for I
never lied to you about it—and after we'd started on that track I
didn't—well, I didn't have the courage to risk losing you by quitting
“How you must have laughed at me all the time!”
He flushed to his angry eyes. “Do you think that is fair?” he
retorted. “Or kind? Or true?”
“I—I don't know,” she faltered. “You let me offer you money. And
you've probably got as much as I have.”
“I won't have from now on, then. I'm going to paint. I thought, when
you told me you were going away, that I couldn't look at a canvas
again. But now I know I was wrong. I've got to paint. You'll have left
me that, at least.”
“Mr. Merrill thinks you're ruining your career. And if you do, it'll
be my fault. I'll never, never, never,” said the patroness of Art
desolately, “try to do any one good again!”
She turned toward the door.
“At least,” said Julien in a voice which threatened to get out of
control, “you'll know that it wasn't all masquerade. You'll know why
I'll always keep the picture, even if I never paint another.”
She stole a look at him over her shoulder and, with a thrill, saw
the passion in his eyes and the pride that withheld him from speaking.
“Suppose,” she said, “I asked you to give it up.”
“You wouldn't,” he retorted quickly.
“No, I wouldn't. But—but—” Her glance, wandering away from him,
fell on the joyous line of Beranger bold above the door.
“'How good is life in an attic at twenty,'“ she murmured. Then,
turning to him, she held out her hands.
“I could find it good,” she said with a soft little falter in her
voice, “even at twenty-two.”
Everything passes in review before my bench, sooner or later. The
two, going by with transfigured faces, stopped.
“Let's tell Dominie,” said Julien.
I waved a jaunty hand. “I know already,” said I, “even if it hadn't
been announced to a waiting world.”
“Wh-wh-why,” stammered Bobbie with a blush worth a man's waiting a
lifetime to see, “it—it only just happened.”
“Bless your dear, innocent hearts, both of you! It's been happening
for weeks. Come with me.”
I lead them to the sidewalk fronting Thornsen's Elite Restaurant.
There stood Peter Quick Banta, admiring his latest masterpiece of
imaginative symbolism. It represented a love-bird of eagle size holding
in its powerful beak a scroll with a wreath of forget-me-nots on one
end and of orange-blossoms on the other, encircling respectively the
initials. “J.T.” and “R.H.” Below, in no less than four colors, ran the
legend, “Cupid's Token.”
“O Lord! Dad!” cried the horrified Julien, scuffing it out with
frantic feet. “How long has this been there?”
“What're you doing? Leave it be!” cried the anguished artist. “It's
been there since noon.”
“Never mind,” put in Bobbie softly; “it's very pretty and tasteful
even though it is a little precipitate. But how”—she turned the lovely
and puzzled inquiry of her eyes upon the symbolist—“how did you know?”
“Artistic intuition,” said Peter Quick Banta with profound
complacency. “I'm an artist.”
THE HOUSE OF SILVERY VOICES
Wayfarers on the far side of Our Square used to stop before Number
37 and wonder. The little house, it seemed, was making music at them.
“Kleam, kleam, kleam, kleam,” it would pipe pleasantly.
“BHONG! BHONG! BHONG!” solemn and churchly, in rebuke of its own
“Kung-glang! Kung-glang! Kung-glang! Kung-
glang! Kung-glang!” That was a duet in the middle register.
Then from some far-off aerie would ring the tocsin of an elfin
silversmith, fast, furious, and tiny:
We surmised that a retired Swiss bell-ringer had secluded himself in
our remote backwater of the great city to mature fresh combinations of
Before the Voices came, Number 37 was as quiet a house as any in the
Square. Quieter than most, since it was vacant much of the time and the
ceremonious sign of the Mordaunt Estate, “For Rental to Suitable
Tenant,” invited inspection. “Suitable” is the catch in that
innocent-appearing legend. For the Mordaunt Estate, which is no estate
at all and never has been, but an ex-butcher of elegant proclivities
named Wagboom, prefers to rent its properties on a basis of prejudice
rather than profit, and is quite capable of rejecting an applicant as
unsuitable on purely eclectic grounds, such as garlic for breakfast, or
a glass eye.
How the new tenant had contrived to commend himself to Mr.
Mordaunt-Wagboom is something of a mystery. Probably it was his name
rather than his appearance, which was shiny, not to say seedy. He
encountered the Estate when that incorporated gentleman was engaged in
painting the front door, and, in a deprecating voice, inquired whether
twenty-five dollars a month would be considered.
“Maybe,” returned the Estate, whereupon the stranger introduced
himself, with a stiff little bow, as Mr. Winslow Merivale.
Mr. Wagboom was favorably impressed with this, as possessing
“The name,” he pronounced, “is satisfactory. The sum is
satisfactory. It is, however, essential that the lessor should measure
up in character and status to the standards of the Mordaunt Estate.”
This he had adapted from the prospectus of a correspondence school,
which had come to him through the mail, very genteelly worded. “Family
man?” he added briskly.
“How many of you?”
“No, sir,” said the little man, very low.
“Son? Daughter? What age?”
“I have never been blessed with a child.”
“Willy Woolly would share the house with me, sir.”
For the first time the Mordaunt Estate noticed a small, fluffy
poodle, with an important expression, seated behind the railing.
“I don't like dogs,” said the Mordaunt Estate curtly.
“Willy Woolly”—Mr. Winslow Merivale addressed his companion—“this
gentleman does not like dogs.”
The Mordaunt Estate felt suddenly convicted of social error. The
feeling deepened when Willy Woolly advanced, reckoned him up with an
appraising eye, and, without the slightest loss of dignity, raised
himself on his hind legs, offering the gesture of supplication. He did
not, however, droop his paws in the accepted canine style; he joined
them, finger tip to finger tip, elegantly and piously, after the manner
of the Maiden's Prayer.
The Estate promptly capitulated.
“Some pup!” he exclaimed. “When did you want to move in?”
“At once, if you please.”
Before the Estate had finished his artistic improvements on the
front door, the new tenant had begun the transfer of his simple lares
and penates in a big hand-propelled pushcart. The initial load
consisted in the usual implements of eating, sitting, and sleeping. But
the burden of the half-dozen succeeding trips was homogeneous. Clocks.
Big clocks, little clocks, old clocks, new clocks, fat clocks, lean
clocks, solemn clocks, fussy clocks, clocks of red, of green, of brown,
of pink, of white, of orange, of blue, clocks that sang, and clocks
that rang, clocks that whistled, and blared, and piped, and drummed.
One by one, the owner established them in their new domicile, adjusted
them, dusted them, and wound them, and, as they set themselves once
more to their meticulous busy-ness, that place which had for so long
been muffled in quiet and deadened with dust, gave forth the tiny
bustle of unresting mechanism and the pleasant chime of the hours.
Number 37 became the House of Silvery Voices.
* * * * *
Thus came to Our Square, to be one of us, for better or for worse,
Mr. Winslow Merivale, promptly rechristened Stepfather Time. The Bonnie
Lassie gave him the name. She said that only a stepfather could bring
up his charges so badly. For his clocks were both independent and
irresponsible, though through no fault of their own. When they were
wound they went. When they were unwound they rested. Seldom were more
than half of them simultaneously busy, and their differences of opinion
as to the hour were radical and irreconcilable. The big, emphatic
eight-day, opposite the front door, might proclaim that it was eleven,
only to be at once contradicted by the little tinkler on the parlor
mantel, which announced that it was six, thereby starting up the
cathedral case on the stairway and the Grandfather in the dining-room,
who held out respectively for eight and two, while all the time it was
really half-past one. Thence arose in the early days painful
misunderstandings on the part of Our Square, for we are a simple people
and deem it the duty of a timepiece to keep time. In particular we were
befooled by Grandfather, the solemn-voiced Ananias of a clock with a
long-range stroke and a most convincing manner. So that Schepstein, the
note-shaver, on his way to a profitable appointment at 11 A.M., heard
the hour strike (thirty-five minutes in advance of the best
professional opinion) from the House of Silvery Voices, and was
impelled to the recklessness of hiring a passing taxi, thereby reaching
his destination with half an hour to spare and half a dollar to lack,
for which latter he threatened to sue the Mordaunt Estate's tenant. To
the credit side of the house's account it must be set down that
MacLachan, the tailor, having started one of his disastrous drunks
within the precincts of his Home of Fashion, was on his way to finish
it in the gutter via the zigzag route from corner saloon to corner
saloon, when the Twelve Apostles clock in the basement window lifted up
its voice and (presumably through the influence of Peter) thrice denied
the hour, which was actually a quarter before midnight. “Losh!” said
MacLachan, who invariably reacted in tongue to the stimulus of Scotch
whiskey, “they'll a' be closed. Hame an' to bed wi' ye, waster of the
priceless hours!” And back he staggered to sleep it off.
Then there was the disastrous case of the Little Red Doctor, who set
out to attend a highly interesting consultation at 4 P.M. and, hearing
Grandfather Ananias strike three, erroneously concluded that he had
spare time to stop in for a peek at Madame Tallafferr's gout (which was
really vanity in the guise of tight shoes), and reached the hospital,
only to find it all over and the patient dead.
“It's an outrage,” declared the Little Red Doctor fiercely, “that an
old lunatic can move in here from God-knows-where in a pushcart and
play merry hell with a hard-working practitioner's professional duties.
And you're the one to tell him so, Dominie. You're the diplomat of the
He even inveigled the Bonnie Lassie into backing him up in this
preposterous proposal. She had her own grievance against the House of
“It isn't the way it plays tricks on time alone,” said she. “There's
one clock in there that's worse than conscience.”
And she brought her indictment against a raucous timepiece which was
wont to lead up to its striking with a long, preliminary
clack-and-whirr, alleging that twice, when she had quit her sculping
early because the clay was obdurate and wouldn't come right, and had
gone for a walk to clear her vision, the clock had accosted her in
these unjustifiable terms:
“Clacketty-whirr-rr-rr! Back-to-yer-worr-rr-rrk! Yerr-rr-rr-rr
wrong! wrong! wrong! wrong!”
“Wherefore,” said the Bonnie Lassie, “your appellant prays that you
be a dear, good, stern, forbidding Dominie and go over to Number 37 and
ask him what he means by it, anyway, and tell him he's got to stop it.”
Now, the Bonnie Lassie holds the power of the high, the middle, and
the low justice over all Our Square by the divine right of loveliness
and kindliness. So that evening I went while the Little Red Doctor, as
a self-constituted Committee in Waiting, sat on my bench. Stepfather
Time himself opened the door to me.
“What might they call you, sir, if I may ask?” he inquired with
“They might call me the Dominie hereabouts. And they do.”
“I have heard of you.” He motioned me to a seat in the bare little
room, alive with tickings and clickings. “You have lived long here,
From some interminable distance a voice of time mocked me with a
subtle and solemn mockery: “Long. Long. Long.”
My host waited for the clock to finish before he spoke again. As I
afterward discovered, this was his invariable custom.
“I, too, am an old man,” he murmured.
“A hardy sixty, I should guess.”
“A long life. Might I ask you a question, sir,' as to the folk in
this Square?” He hesitated a moment after I had nodded. “Are they, as
one might say, friendly? Neighborly?”
I was a little taken aback. “We are not an intrusive people.”
“No one,” he said, “has been to see my clocks.”
I began to perceive that this was a sad little man, and to mislike
my errand. “You live here quite alone?” I asked.
“Oh, no!” said he quickly. “You see, I have Willy Woolly. Pardon me.
I have not yet presented him.”
At his call the fluffy poodle ambled over to me, sniffed at my
extended hand, and, rearing, set his paws on my knee.
“He greets you as a friend,” said my new acquaintance in a tone
which indicated that I had been signally honored. “I trust that we
shall see you here often, Mr. Dominie. Would you like to inspect my
Here was my opening. “The fact is—” I began, and stopped from sheer
cowardice. The job was too distasteful. To wound that gentle pride in
his possessions which was obviously the life of the singular being
before me—I couldn't do it. “The fact is,” I repeated, “I—I have a
friend outside waiting for me. The Little Red Doctor—er—Dr. Smith,
“A physician?” he said eagerly. “Would he come in, do you think?
Willy Woolly has been quite feverish to-day.”
“I'll ask him,” I replied, and escaped with that excuse.
When I broke it to the Little Red Doctor, the mildest thing he said
to me was to ask me why I should take him for a dash-binged vet!
Appeals to his curiosity finally overpersuaded him, and now it was
my turn to wait on the bench while he invaded the realm of the Voices.
Happily for me the weather was amiable; it was nearly two hours before
my substitute reappeared. He then tried to sneak away without seeing
me. Balked in this cowardly endeavor, he put on a vague professional
expression and observed that it was an obscure case.
“For a man of sixty,” I began, “Mr. Merivale—”
“Who?” interrupted the Little Red Doctor; “I'm speaking of
“Have you, then,” I inquired in insinuating accents, “become a
“A man can't be a brute, can he!” he retorted angrily. “When that
animated mop put up his paws and stuck his tongue out like a child—”
“I know,” I said. “You took on a new patient. Probably gratis,” I
added, with malice, for this was one of the Little Red Doctor's
notoriously weak points.
“Just the same, he's a fool dog.”
“On the contrary, he is a person of commanding intellect and nice
social discrimination,” I asserted, recalling Willy Woolly's flattering
acceptance of myself.
“A faker,” asseverated my friend. “He pretends to see things.”
I sat up straight on my bench. “Things? What kind of things?”
“Things that aren't there,” returned the Little Red Doctor, and fell
to musing. “They couldn't be,” he added presently and argumentatively.
Receiving no encouragement when I sought further details, I asked
whether he had called the new resident to account for the delinquencies
of his clocks. He shook his head.
“I didn't have time,” said he doggedly.
“Time? Why, there's nothing but time in that house.”
The Little Red Doctor chose to take my feeble joke at par. “No time
at all. None of the clocks keep it.”
“How does he manage his life, then?”
“Willy Woolly does that for him. Barks him up in the morning. Jogs
his elbow at mealtimes. Tucks him in bed at night, for all I know.”
Thus abortively ended Our Square's protest against Stepfather Time
and his House of Silvery Voices. The Little Red Doctor's obscure
suggestion stuck in my mind, and a few nights later I made a second
call. Curiosity rather than neighborliness was the inciting cause.
Therefore I ought to have been embarrassed at the quiet warmth of my
reception by both of the tenants. Interrupting himself in the work of
adjusting a new acquisition's mechanism, Stepfather Time settled me
into the most comfortable chair and immediately began to talk of
Good talk, it was; quaint and flavorous and erudite. But my
attention kept wandering to Willy Woolly, who, after politely kissing
my hand, had settled down behind his master's chair. Willy Woolly was
seeing things. No pretense about it. His mournful eyes yearned hither
and thither, following some entity that moved in the room, dimmer than
darkness, more ethereal than shadow. His ears quivered. A muffled,
measured thumping sounded, dull and indeterminate like spirit rapping;
it took me an appreciable time to identify it as the noise of the
poodle's tail, beating the floor. Once he whined, a quick, quivering,
eager note. And still the amateur of clocks murmured his placid lore.
It was rather more than old nerves could stand.
“The dog,” I broke in upon the stream of erudition. “Surely, Mr.
“Willy Woolly?” He looked down, and the faithful one withdrew
himself from his vision long enough to lick the master hand. “Does he
“Oh, no,” I answered, a little confused. “I only thought—it seemed
that he is uneasy about something.”
“There are finer sensibilities than we poor humans have,” said my
“Then you have noticed how he watches and follows?”
“He is always like that. Always, since.”
His “since” was one of the strangest syllables that ever came to my
ears. It implied nothing to follow. It was finality's self.
“It is”—I sought a word—“interesting and curious,” I concluded
lamely, feeling how insufficient the word was.
“She comes back to him,” said my host simply.
No need to ask of whom he spoke. The pronoun was as final and
definitive as his “since.” Never have I heard such tenderness as he
gave to its utterance. Nor such desolation as dimmed his voice when he
“She never comes back to me.”
That evening he spoke no more of her. Yet I felt that I had been
admitted to an intimacy. And, as the habit grew upon me thereafter of
dropping in to listen to the remote, restful, unworldly quaintnesses of
his philosophy, fragments, dropped here and there, built up the outline
of the tragedy which had left him stranded in our little backwater of
quiet. She whom he had cherished since they were boy and girl together,
had died in the previous winter. She had formed the whole circle of his
existence within which he moved, attended by Willy Woolly, happily
gathering his troves. Her death had left him not so much alone as alien
in the world. He was without companionship except that of Willy Woolly,
without interest except that of his timepieces, and without hope except
that of rejoining her. Once he emerged from a long spell of musing, to
say in a tone of indescribable conviction:
“I suppose I was the happiest man in the world.”
Any chance incident or remark might turn his thought and speech,
unconscious of the transition, from his favorite technicalities back to
the past. Some comment of mine upon a specimen of that dismal songster,
the cuckoo clock, which stood on his mantel, had started him into one
of his learned expositions.
“The first cuckoo clock, as you are doubtless aware, sir”—he was
always scrupulous to assume knowledge on the part of his hearer, no
matter how abstruse or technical the subject; it was a phase of his
inherent courtesy—“was intended to represent not the cuckoo, but the
blackbird. It had a double pipe for the hours, 'Pit-weep! Pit-weep!'
and a single—”
His voice trailed into silence as the mechanical bird of his own
collection popped forth and piped its wooden lay. Willy Woolly pattered
over, sat down before it, and, gazing through and beyond the
meaningless face with eyes of adoration whose purport there was no
mistaking, whined lovingly.
“When the cuckoo sounded,” continued the collector without the
slightest change of intonation, “she used to imitate it to puzzle Willy
Woolly. A merry heart! ... All was so still after it stopped beating.
The clocks forgot to strike.”
The poodle, turning his absorbed regard from the Presence that moves
beyond time and its perishing voices, trotted to his master and nuzzled
the frail hand.
The hand fondled him. “Yes, little dog,” murmured the man. His eyes,
sad as those of the animal, quested the dimness.
“Why does she come to him and not to me? He loved her dearly, didn't
you, little dog? But not as I did.” There was a quivering note of
jealousy in his voice. “Why is my vision blinded to what he sees?”
“You have said yourself that there are finer sensibilities than
ours,” I suggested.
He shook his head. “It lies deeper than that. I think he is drawing
near her. He used to have a little bark that he kept for her alone. In
the dead of night I have heard him give that bark—since. And I knew
that she was speaking to him. I think that he will go first. Perhaps he
will tell her that I am coming.... But I should be very lonely.”
“Willy's a stout young thing,” I asserted, “with years of life
“Perhaps,” he returned doubtfully. A gleam of rare fun lit up his
pale, vague eyes. “Can't you see him dodging past Saint Peter through
the pearly gates” (“I was brought up a Methodist,” he added in
apologetic explanation), “trotting along the alabaster streets sniffing
about for her among all the Shining Ones, listening for her voice amid
the sound of the harps, and when he finds her, hallelujahing with that
little bark that was for her alone: 'Here I am, mistress! Here I am!
And he's coming soon, mistress. Your Old Boy is coming soon.'“
When I retailed that conversation to the Little Red Doctor, he
snorted and said that Stepfather Time was one degree crazier than Willy
Woolly and that I wasn't much better than a higher moron myself. Well,
if I've got to be called a fool by my best friends, I'd rather be
called it in Greek than in English. It's more euphonious.
* * * * *
The pair in Number 37 soon settled down to a routine life. Every
morning Stepfather Time got out his big pushcart and set forth in
search of treasure, accompanied by Willy Woolly. Sometimes the dog
trotted beneath the cart; sometimes he rode in it. He was always on the
job. Never did he indulge in those divagations so dear to the normal
canine heart. Other dogs and their ways interested him not. Cats simply
did not exist in his circumscribed life. Even to the shining mark of a
boy on a bicycle he was indifferent, and when a dog has reached that
stage one may safely say of him that he has renounced the world and all
its vanities. Willy Woolly's one concern in life was his master and
their joint business.
Soon they became accepted familiars of Our Square. Despite the
general conviction that they were slightly touched, we even became
proud of them. They lent distinction to the locality by getting written
up in a Sunday supplement, Willy Woolly being specially photographed
therefor, a gleam of transient glory, which, however it may have
gratified our local pride, left both of the subjects quite indifferent.
Stepfather Time might have paid more heed to it had he not, at the
time, been wholly preoccupied in a difficult quest.
In a basement window, far over on Avenue D, stood an old and
battered timepiece of which Stepfather Time had heard the voice but
never seen the face. Each of three attempts to investigate with a view
to negotiations had been frustrated by a crabbed and violent-looking
man with a repellent club. Nevertheless, the voice alone had ensnared
the connoisseur; it was, by the test of the pipe which he carried on
all his quests, D in alt, and would thus complete the major chord of a
chime which he had long been building up. (She had loved, best of all,
harmonic combinations of the clock bells.) Every day he would halt in
front of the place and wait to hear it strike, and its owner would peer
out from behind it and shake a wasted fist and curse him with strange,
hoarse foreign oaths, while Willy Woolly tugged at his trouser leg and
urged him to pass on from that unchancy spot. All that he could learn
about the basement dweller was that his name was Lukisch and he owed
for his rent.
Mr. Lukisch had nothing special against the queer old party who made
sheep's eyes at his clock every day. He hated him quite impartially, as
he hated everybody. Mr. Lukisch had a bad heart in more senses than
one, and a grudge against the world which he blamed for the badness of
his heart. Also he had definite ideas of reprisal, which were focused
by a dispossess notice, and directed particularly upon the person and
property of his landlord. The clock he needed as the instrument of his
vengeance; therefore he would not have sold it at any price to the
sheep-eyed old lunatic of the pushcart, who now, on the eve of his
eviction, stood gazing in with wistful contemplation. Presently he
passed on and Mr. Lukisch resumed his tinkering with the clock's
insides. He was very delicate and careful about it, for these were the
final touches, preparatory to his leaving the timepiece as a memento
when he should quietly depart that evening, shortly before nine. What
might happen after nine, or, rather, on the stroke of nine, was no
worry of his, though it might be and probably would be of the
landlord's, provided that heartless extortioner survived it.
Having completed his operations, Mr. Lukisch sat down in a rickety
chair and gazed at the clock, face to face, with contemplative
satisfaction. Stepfather Time would have been interested in the
contrast between those two physiognomies. The clock's face, benign and
bland, would have deceived him. But, innocent though he was in the ways
of evil, the man's face might have warned him.
Something within the clock's mechanism clicked and checked and went
on again. The sound, quite unexpected, gave Mr. Lukisch a bad start.
Could something have gone wrong with the combination? Suppose a
premature release.... At that panic thought something within Mr.
Lukisch's bad heart clicked and checked and did not go on again. The
fear in his eyes faded and was succeeded by an expression of surprise
and inquiry. Whether the inquiry was answered, nobody could have
guessed from the still, unwinking regard on the face of the victim of
By and by a crowd gathered on the sidewalk, drawn by that mysterious
instinct for sensation which attracts the casual and the idle. Two bold
spirits entered the door and stood, hesitant, just inside, awed because
the clock seemed so startlingly alive in that place. Some one sent
upstairs for the landlord, who arrived to bemoan the unjust fates which
had not only mulcted him of two months' rent with nothing to show for
it but a rickety clock, but had also saddled him with a wholly
superfluous corpse. He abused both indiscriminately, but chiefly the
clock because it gave the effect of being sentient. So fervently did he
curse it that Stepfather Time, repassing with Willy Woolly, heard him
“And who”—the landlord addressed high Heaven with a gesture at once
pious and pessimistic—“is to pay me fourteen dollars back rent this
dirty beggar owes?”
“The man,” said Stepfather Time gently, “is dead.”
“He is.” The landlord confirmed the unwelcome fact with
objurgations. “Now must come the po-liss, the coroner, trouble, and
expense. And what have I who run my property honest and respectable got
to pay for it? Some rags and a bum clock.”
Willy Woolly sniffed at one protruding foot and growled. Dead or
alive, this was not Willy Woolly's kind of man. “Now, now, Willy
Woolly!” reproved his master. “Who are we that we should judge him?”
“But I don't like him,” declared Willy Woolly in unequivocal
“I think from his face that he has suffered much,” said the gentle
collector, wise in human pain.
“Me; I suppose I don't suffer!” pointed out the landlord vehemently.
“Fourteen dollars out. Two months' rent. A bum clock.”
He kicked the shabby case which whizzed and birred and struck five.
The voice of its bell, measured and mellow and pure, was unquestionably
D in alt.
“My dear sir,” said Stepfather Time urbanely, but quivering
underneath his calm manner with the hot eagerness of the chase, “I will
buy your clock.”
A gust of rough laughter passed through the crowd. The injurious
word “nut” floated in the air, and was followed by “Verrichter.” The
landlord took thought and hope.
“It is a very fine clock,” he declared.
“It is a bum clock,” Stepfather Time reminded him mildly.
“Stepnadel, the auctioneer, would pay me much money for it.”
“I will pay you much money for it.”
“Seven dollars. That is one month's rent that he owed.”
“Two months' rent I must have.”
“One,” said Stepfather Time firmly.
“Two,” said the landlord insistently.
“Urff! Grr—rr—rr—rrff!” said Willy Woolly in emphatic dissuasion.
Stepfather Time was scandalized. Expert opinion was quite outside of
Willy Woolly's province. Only once in the course of their years
together had he interfered in a purchase. Justice compelled Stepfather
Time to recall that the subject of Willy's protests on that occasion
had subsequently turned out to be far less antique than the worm holes
in the woodwork (artificially blown in with powder) would have led the
unsuspecting to suppose. But about the present legacy there could be no
such question. It was genuine. It was old. It was valuable. It
possessed a seraphic note pitched true to the long-desired chord.
Extracting a ten-dollar note from his wallet, Stepfather Time waved
it beneath the landlord's wrinkled and covetous nose. The landlord
capitulated. Willy Woolly, sniffing at the clock with fur abristle,
lifted up his voice and wailed. Perhaps his delicate nose had already
detected the faint, unhallowed odor of the chemicals within. He
stubbornly refused to ride back in the cart with the new acquisition,
and was accused of being sulky and childish.
* * * * *
The relic of the late unlamented Lukisch was temporarily installed
in a high chair before the open window giving on the areaway of Number
37. There it briefly beamed upon the busy life of Our Square with its
bland and hypocritical face, and there, thrice and no more, it sounded
the passing of the hours with its sweet and false voice, biding the
stroke of nine. Meantime Willy Woolly settled down to keep watch on it
and could not be moved from that duty. Every time it struck the half he
growled. At the hour he barked and raged. When Stepfather Time sought
to draw him away to dinner he committed the unpardonable sin of
dog-dom, he snarled at his master. Turning this strange manifestation
over in his troubled mind, the collector decided that Willy Woolly must
be ill, and therefore that evening went to seek the Little Red Doctor
and his wisdom.
Together they came across the park space opposite the House of
Silvery Voices in time to witness the final scene.
The new clock struck the half after eight as they reached the turn
in the path. A long, quavering howl, mingled of rage and desperation,
answered in Willy Woolly's voice.
“You hear?” said Stepfather Time anxiously to the Little Red Doctor.
“The dog is not himself.”
They saw him rear up against the clock case. He seemed to be trying
to tear it open with his teeth.
“Willy!” cried his master in a tone such as, I suppose, the
well-loved companion had not heard twice before in his life. “Down,
The dog drooped back. But it was not in obedience. For once he
disregarded the master's command. Perhaps he did not even hear it in
the absorption of his dread and rage. Step by step he withdrew, then
rushed and launched himself straight at the timepiece. Slight though
his bulk was, the impetus of the charge did the work. The clock reeled,
toppled, and fell outward through the window; then—
From the House of Silvery Voices rose a roar that smote the heavens.
A roar and a belch of flame and a spreading, poisonous stench that
struck the two men in the park to earth. When they struggled to their
feet again, the smoke had parted and the House of Silvery Voices gaped
open, its front wall stripped bodily away. But within, the sound of the
busy industry of time went on uninterrupted.
Weaving and wobbling on his feet, Stepfather Time staggered toward
the pot calling on the name of Willy Woolly. At the gate he stopped,
put forth his hand, and lifted from the railing a wopsy, woolly
fragment, no bigger than a sheet of note paper. It was red and warm and
“He's gone,” said Stepfather Time.
The Clock of Conscience took up the tale. “Gone. Gone. Gone,” it
As the collector would not leave the shattered house, they sent for
me to stay the night with him. A strange vigil! For now it was the man
who followed with intent, unworldly eyes that which I, with my lesser
vision, could not discern. And the Unseen moved swiftly about the
desolate room, low to the floor, and seemed finally to stop, motionless
beneath a caressing hand. I thought to hear that dull, measured
thumping of a grateful tail, but it was only the Twelve Apostles
getting ready to strike.
Only once that night did Stepfather Time speak, and then not to me.
“Tell her,” he said in an assured murmur, “that I shan't be long.”
“Not-long. Not-long. Not-long. Not-long. Not-long,” confirmed
Grandfather from his stance on the stairway.
In that assurance Stepfather Time fell asleep. He did not go out
again with his pushcart, but sat in the rear room while the Mordaunt
Estate in person superintended the job of putting a new front on the
The night after it was finished I received an urgent telephone call
to come there at once. At the entrance I met the Little Red Doctor
“The clocks have stopped,” said he gently.
So I turned to cross the park with him.
“I shall certify,” said he, “heart disease.”
“You may certify what you please,” said I. “But what do you
The Little Red Doctor, who prides himself on being a hard-bitted
materialist, glared at me as injuriously as if my innocent question had
been an insult.
“I don't believe it!” he averred violently. “Do you take me for a
sentimental idiot that I should pin silly labels on my old friend,
Death?” His expression underwent a curious change. “But I never saw
such joy on any living face,” he muttered under his breath.
* * * * *
The House of Silvery Voices is silent now. But its echo still lives
and makes music in Our Square. For, with the proceeds of Stepfather
Time's clocks, an astounding total, we have built a miniature clock
tower facing Number 37, with a silvery voice of its own, for memory.
The Bonnie Lassie designed the tower, and because there is love and
understanding in all that the Bonnie Lassie sets her wonder-working
hand to, it is as beautiful as it is simple. Among ourselves we call it
the Tower of the Two Faithful Hearts.
The silvery voice within it is the product of a paragon among
timepieces, a most superior instrument, of unimpeachable construction
and great cost. But it has one invincible peculiarity, the despair of
the best consulting experts who have been called in to remedy it and,
one and all, have failed for reasons which they cannot fathom. How
It never keeps time.
Long ago I made an important discovery. It comes under the general
head of statics and is this: by occupying an invariable bench in Our
Square, looking venerable and contemplative and indigenous, as if you
had grown up in that selfsame spot, you will draw people to come to you
for information, and they will frequently give more than they get of
it. Such, I am informed, is the method whereby the flytrap orchid
achieves a satisfying meal. Not that I seek to claim for myself the
colorful splendors of the Cypripedium, being only a tired old pedagogue
with a taste for the sunlight and for observing the human bubbles that
float and bob on the current in our remote eddy of life. Nevertheless,
I can follow a worthy example, even though the exemplar be only a
carnivorous bloom. And, I may confess, on the afternoon of October 1st,
I was in a receptive mood for such flies of information as might come
to me concerning two large invading vans which had rumbled into our
quiet precincts and, after a pause for inquiry, stopped before the
Mordaunt Estate's newly repaired property at Number 37.
The Mordaunt Estate in person was painting the front wall. The
design which he practiced was based less upon any previsioned concept
of art than upon the purchase, at a price, of a rainbow-end job lot of
The vanners descended, bent on negotiations. Progress was obviously
unsatisfactory, the artist, after brief and chill consideration,
reverting to his toil. Now, tact and discretion are essential in
approaching the Mordaunt Estate, for he is a prickly institution. I was
sure that the newcomers had taken the wrong tack with him.
Discomfiture was in their mien as they withdrew in my direction. I
mused upon my bench, with a metaphysical expression which I have found
useful in such cases. They conferred. They approached. They begged my
pardon. With an effort which can hardly have failed to be effective, I
dragged myself back to the world of actualities and opened languid eyes
upon them. It is possible that I opened them somewhat wider than the
normal, for they fell at once upon the nearer and smaller of the pair,
a butterfly of the most vivid and delightful appearance.
“Is the house with the 'To Let' sign on it really to let, do you
know, sir?” she inquired, adding music to color with her voice.
“So I understand,” said I, rising.
“And the party with the yellow nose, who is desecrating the front,”
put in the butterfly's companion. “Is he a lunatic or a designer of
“He is a proud and reserved ex-butcher, named Wagboom, now doing a
limited but high-class business in rentals as the Mordaunt Estate.”
“He may be the butcher, but he talks more like the pig. All we could
get out of him was a series of grunts when we addressed him by name.”
“Ah, but you used the wrong name. For all business purposes he
should be addressed as the Mordaunt Estate, his duly incorporated
title. Wagboom is an irritant to a haughty property-owner's soul.”
“Shall we go back and try a counter-irritant?” asked the young man
of his companion.
“With a view to renting?” I inquired.
“Do you keep dogs?”
“No,” said the young man.
“Or clocks by the hundred?”
“Certainly not,” answered the butterfly.
Upon their combined and emphatic negative they looked at each other
with a wild surmise which said plainly: “Are they all crazy down
“If you do,” I explained kindly, “you might have trouble in dealing.
The latest tenant of Number 37 was a fluffy poodle who pushed one of
two hundred clocks into the front area so that it exploded and blew
away the front wall.” And I outlined the history of that canine
clairvoyant, Willy Woolly. “The Mordaunt Estate is sensitive about his
tenants, anyway. He rents, not on profits, but on prejudice. Perhaps it
would be well for you to flatter him a little; admire his style of
Accepting this counsel with suitable expressions, they returned to
the charge, addressed the proprietor of Number 37 by his official title
and delivered the most gratifying opinions regarding his artistry.
“That,” said the Mordaunt Estate, wiping his painty hands on his
knees with brilliant results, as he turned a fat and smiling face to
them, “is after the R. Noovo style. I dunno who R. Noovo was, but he's
a bear for color. Are you artists?”
“We're house-hunters,” explained the young man.
“As for tenants,” said the Mordaunt Estate, “I take 'em or leave 'em
as I like 'em or don't. I like you folks. You got an eye for a tasty
bit of colorin'. Eight rooms, bath, and kitchen. By the week in case we
don't suit each other. Very choice and classy for a young married
couple. Eight dollars, in advance. Prices for R. Noovo dwellings has
“We're not married,” said the young man.
“Hey? Whaddye mean, not married?” demanded that highly respectable
institution, the Mordaunt Estate, severely. His expression mollified as
he turned to the butterfly. “Aimin' to be, I s'pose.”
“We only met this morning; so we haven't decided yet,” answered the
young man. “At least,” he added blandly, as his companion seemed to be
struggling for utterance, “she hasn't informed me of her decision, if
she has made it.”
Bewilderment spread like a gray mist across the painty features of
the Mordaunt Estate. “Nothin' doin',” he began, “until—”
“Don't decide hastily,” adjured the young man. “Take this coin.” He
forced a half-dollar into the reluctant hand of the decorator.
“Nothin' doin' on account, either. Pay as you enter.”
“Only one of us is going to enter. The coin decides. Spin it. Your
call,” he said to the butterfly.
“Heads,” cried the butterfly.
“Tails,” proclaimed the arbiter, as the silver shivered into silence
on the flagging.
“Then the house is yours,” said the butterfly. “Good luck go with
it.” She smiled, gamely covering her disappointment.
“I don't want it,” returned the young man.
“Play fair,” she exhorted him. “We both agreed solemnly to stand by
the toss. Didn't we?”
“What did we agree?”
“That the winner should have the choice.”
“Very well. I won, didn't I?”
“You certainly did.”
“And I choose not to take the house,” he declared triumphantly.
“It's a very nice house, but”—he shaded his eyes as he directed them
upon the proud-pied facade, blinking significantly—“I'd have to wear
smoked glasses if I lived in it, and they don't suit my style of
“You'd not get it now, young feller, if you was to go down on your
knees with a thousand dollars in each hand,” asserted the offended
“See!” said the young man to the butterfly. “Fate decides for you.”
“But what will you do?” she asked solicitously.
“Perhaps I can find some other place in the Square.”
She held out her hand. “You've been very nice and helpful, but—I
think not. Good-bye.”
He regarded the hand blankly. “Not—what?”
“Not here in this Square, if you don't mind.”
“But where else is there?” he asked piteously. “You know yourself
there are countless thousands of homeless drifters floating around on
this teeming island in vans, with no place to land.”
“Try Jersey. Or Brooklyn,” was her hopeful suggestion.
“'And bade betwixt their shores to be
The unplumb'd, salt, estranging sea,'“
he quoted with dramatic intonation, adding helpfully: “Matthew
Arnold. Or is it Arnold Bennett? Anyway, think how far away those
places are,” he pleaded. “From you!” he concluded.
A little decided frown crept between her eyebrows. “I've accepted
you as a gentleman on trust,” she began, when he broke in:
“Don't do it. It's a fearfully depressing thing to be reminded that
you're a gentleman on trust and expected to live up to it. Think how it
cramps one's style, not to mention limiting one's choice of real
estate. A gentleman may stake his future happiness and his hope of a
home on the toss of a coin, but he mustn't presume to want to see the
other party to the gamble again, even if she's the only thing in the
whole sweep of his horizon worth seeing. Is that fair? Where is Eternal
Justice, I ask you, when such things—”
“Oh, do stop!” she implored. “I don't think you're sane.”
“No such claim is put forth on behalf of the accused. He confesses
to complete loss of mental equilibrium since—let me see—since 11.15
Here the Mordaunt Estate, who had been doing some shrewd thinking on
his own behalf, interposed.
“I'd rather rent to two than one,” he said insinuatingly. “More
reliable and steady with the rent. Settin' aside the young feller's
weak eyes, you're a nice-matched pair. Gittin' a license is easy, if
you know the ropes. I'd even be glad to go with you to—”
“As to not being married,” broke in the butterfly, with the light of
a great resolve in her eye, “this gentleman may speak for himself. I
“Am what?” queried the Estate.
“Damn!” exploded the young man. “I mean, congratulations and all
that sort of thing. I—I'm really awfully sorry. You'll forgive my
making such an ass of myself, won't you?”
To her troubled surprise there was real pain in the eyes which he
turned rather helplessly away from her. Had she kept her own gaze fixed
on them, she would have experienced a second surprise a moment later,
at a sudden alteration and hardening of their expression. For his
groping regard had fallen upon her left hand, which was gloved. Now, a
wedding ring may be put on and off at will, but the glove, beneath
which it has been once worn, never thereafter quite regains the
maidenly smoothness of the third finger. The butterfly's gloves were
not new, yet there showed not the faintest trace of a ridge in the
significant locality. While admitting to himself that the evidence fell
short of conclusiveness, the young man decided to accept it as a
working theory and to act, win or lose, do or die, upon the hopeful
hypothesis that his delightful but elusive companion was a li—that is
to say, an inventor. He would give that invention the run of its young
“We—ell,” the Mordaunt Estate was saying, “that's too bad. Ain't a
widdah lady are you?”
“My husband is in France.”
With a prayer that his theory was correct, the young man rushed in
where many an angel might have feared to tread. “Maybe he'll stay
there,” he surmised.
In a musical but unappreciated barytone he hummed the initial line
of “The Girl I Left Behind Me.”
“'The maids of France are fond and free.'
“Besides,” he added, “it's quite unhealthy there at this season. I
wouldn't be surprised”—he halted—“at anything,” he finished darkly.
Outraged by this ruthless if hypothetical murder of an equally
hypothetical spouse, she groped vainly for adequate words. Before she
could find them—
“I'll wait around—in hopes,” he decided calmly.
So, that was the attitude this ruffian took with a respectable and
ostensibly married woman! And she had mistaken him for a gentleman! She
had even begun to feel a reluctant sort of liking for him; at any rate,
an interest in his ambiguous and perplexing personality. Now—how dared
he! She put it to him at once: “How dare you!”
“Flashing eye, stamp of the foot, hands outstretched in gesture of
loathing and repulsion; villain registers shame and remorse,”
prescribed the unimpressed subject of her retort. “As a wife, you are,
of course, unapproachable. As a widow, grass-green, crepe-black, or
only prospective”—he suddenly assumed a posture made familiar through
the public prints by a widely self-exploited savior of the
suffering—“there is H-O-P-E!” he intoned solemnly, wagging a benignant
forefinger at her.
The butterfly struggled with an agonizing desire to break down into
unbridled mirth and confess. Pride restrained her; pride mingled with
foreboding as to what this exceedingly progressive and by no means
unattractive young suitor—for he could be relegated to no lesser
category—might do next. She said coolly and crisply:
“I wish nothing more to do with you whatever.”
“Then I needn't quit the Garden of Ed—I mean, Our Square?”
“You may do as you see fit,” she replied loftily.
“Act the gent, can't chuh?” reproved the Mordaunt Estate. “You're
makin' the lady cry.”
“He isn't,” denied the lady, with ferocity. “He couldn't.”
“He'll find no spot to lay his head in Our Square, ma'am,” the
polite Estate assured her.
“If he wants to stay, he'll have to live in his van.”
“Grand little idea! I'll do it. I'll be a van hermit and fast and
watch and pray beneath your windows.”
“You may live in your van forever,” retorted the justly incensed
butterfly, “but I'll never speak to you as long as I live in this
house. Never, never, never!”
She vanished beyond the outrageous decorations of the wall. The
Mordaunt Estate took down the “To Let” sign, and went in search of a
helper to unload the van. The deserted and denounced young man crawled
into his own van and lay down with his head on a tantalus and his feet
on the collected works of Thackeray, to consider what had happened to
him. But his immediate memories were not conducive to sober
consideration, shot through as they were with the light of deep-gray
eyes and the fugitive smile of lips sensitive to every changeful
thought. So he fell to dreams. As to the meeting which had brought the
now parted twain to Our Square, it had come about in this wise:
Two miles northwest of Our Square as the sparrow flies, on the brink
of a maelstrom of traffic, two moving-vans which had belied their name
by remaining motionless for five impassioned minutes, disputed the
right of way, nose to nose, while the injurious remarks of the
respective drivers inflamed the air. A girlish but decided voice from
within the recesses of the larger van said: “Don't give an inch.”
Deep inside the other vehicle a no less decisive barytone said what
sounded like “Give an ell,” but probably was not, as there was no
corresponding movement of the wheels.
What the van drivers said is the concern of the censor. What they
did upon descending to the sidewalk comes under the head of direct
action, and as such was the concern of the authorities which pried them
asunder and led them away. Thereupon the inner habitants of the
deserted equipages emerged from amid their lares and penates, and met
face to face. The effect upon the occupant of the smaller van was
electric, not to say paralytic.
“Oh, glory!” he murmured faintly, with staring eyes.
“Would you kindly move?” said the girl, in much the same tone that
one would employ toward an obnoxious beetle, supposing that one ever
addressed a beetle with freezing dignity.
The young man directed a suffering look upon his van. “I've done
nothing else for the last three days. Tell me where I can move to and
I'll bless you as a benefactress of the homeless.”
“Anywhere out of my way,” she replied with a severity which the
corners of her sensitive mouth were finding it hard to live up to.
“Behold me eliminated, deleted, expunged,” he declared humbly. “But
first let me explain that when I told my idiot chauffeur to give
'em—that is, to hold his ground, I didn't know who you were.”
She wrinkled dainty brows at him. “Well, you don't know who I am
now, do you?”
“I don't have to,” he responded with fervor. “Just on sight you may
have all of this street and as many of the adjoining avenues as you can
use. By the way, who are you?” The question was put with an
expression of sweet and innocent simplicity.
The girl looked at him hard and straight. “I don't think that
introductions are necessary.”
He sighed outrageously. “They Met but to Part; Laura Jean Libbey;
twenty-fourth large edition,” he murmured. “And I was just about to
present myself as Martin Dyke, vagrant, but harmless, and very much at
your service. However, I perceive with pain that it is, indeed, my
move. May I help you up to the wheel of your ship? I infer that you
intend driving yourself.”
“I'll have to, if I'm to get anywhere.” A look of dismay overspread
her piquant face. “Oh, dear! I don't in the least understand this
machinery. I can't drive this kind of car.”
“Glory be!” exclaimed Mr. Dyke. “I mean, that's too bad,” he amended
gracefully. “Won't you let me take you where you want to go?”
“What'll become of your van, then? Besides, I haven't any idea where
I want to go.”
“What! Are you, too, like myself, a wandering home-seeker on the
face of an overpopulated earth, Miss?”
The “Miss” surprised her. Why the sudden lapse on the part of this
extraordinary and self-confident young person into the terminology of
the servant class?
“Yes, I am,” she admitted.
“A hundred thousand helpless babes in the wood,” he announced
sonorously, “are wandering about, lost and homeless on this melancholy
and moving day of October 1st, waiting for the little robins to come
and bury them under the brown and withered leaves. Ain't it harrowing,
Miss! Personally I should prefer to have the last sad dirge sung over
me by a quail on toast, or maybe a Welsh rabbit. What time did you
breakfast, Miss? I had a ruined egg at six-fifteen.”
The girl surrendered to helpless and bewildered laughter. “You ask
the most personal questions as if they were a matter of course.”
“By way of impressing you with my sprightly and entertaining
individuality, so that you will appreciate the advantages to be derived
from my continued acquaintance, and grapple me to your soul with hooks
of steel, as Hamlet says. Or was it Harold Bell Wright? Do you care for
reading, Miss? I've got a neat little library inside, besides an
automatic piano and a patent ice-box.... By the way, Miss, is that
policeman doing setting-up exercises or motioning us to move on? I
think he is.”
“But I can't move on,” she said pathetically.
“Couldn't you work my van, Miss? It's quite simple.”
She gave it a swift examination. “Yes,” said she. “It's almost like
my own car.”
“Then I'll lead, and you follow, Miss.”
“But I can't—I don't know who—I don't want your van. Where
“Go?” he supplied. “To jail, I judge, unless we go somewhere else
and do it now. Come on! We're off!”
Overborne by his insistence and further influenced by the scowl of
the approaching officer, she took the wheel. At the close of some
involved but triumphant maneuverings the exchanged vans removed
themselves from the path of progress, headed eastward to Fourth Avenue
and bore downtownward. Piloting a strange machine through rush traffic
kept the girl in the trailer too busy for speculation, until, in the
recesses of a side street, her leader stopped and she followed suit.
Mr. Dyke's engaging and confident face appeared below her.
“Within,” he stated, pointing to a quaint Gothic doorway, “they
dispense the succulent pig's foot and the innocuous and unconvincing
near-but-not-very-beer. It is also possible to get something to eat and
drink. May I help you down, Miss?”
“No,” said the girl dolefully. “I want to go home.”
“But on your own showing, you haven't any home.”
“I've got to find one. Immediately.”
“You'll need help, Miss. It'll take some finding.”
“I wish you wouldn't call me Miss,” she said with evidences of
“Have it your own way, Lady. We strive to please, as R.L. Stevenson
says. Or is it R.H. Macy? Anyway, a little bite of luncheon Lady, while
we discuss the housing problem—”
“Why are you calling me Lady, now?”
He shook a discouraged head. “You seem very hard to please, Sister.
I've tried you with Miss and I've tried you with Lady—”
“Are you a gentleman or are you a—a—”
“Don't say it, Duchess. Don't! Remember what Tennyson says: 'One
hasty line may blast a budding hope.' Or was it Burleson? When you deny
to the companion of your wanderings the privilege of knowing your name,
what can he do but fall back for guidance upon that infallible chapter
in the Gents' Handbook of Classy Behavior, entitled, 'From
Introduction's Uncertainties to Friendship's Fascinations'?”
“We haven't even been introduced,” she pointed out.
“Pardon me. We have. By the greatest of all Masters of Ceremonies,
Old Man Chance. Heaven knows what it may lead to,” he added piously.
“Now, Miss—or Lady—or Sister, as the case may be; or even Sis (I
believe that form is given in the Gents' Handbook), if you will put
your lily hand in mine—”
“Wait. Promise me not to call me any of those awful things during
luncheon, and afterward I may tell you my name. It depends.”
“A test! I'm on. We're off.”
Mr. Martin Dyke proved himself capable of selecting a suitable
repast from an alien-appearing menu. In the course of eating it they
pooled their real-estate impressions and information. He revealed that
there was no available spot fit to dwell in on the West Side, or in
mid-town. She had explored Park Avenue and the purlieus thereof
extensively and without success. There remained only the outer darkness
to the southward for anything which might meet the needs of either. In
the event of a discovery they agreed, on her insistence, to gamble for
it by the approved method of the tossed coin: “The winner has the
Throughout the luncheon the girl approved her escort's manner and
bearing as unexceptionable. No sooner had they entered into the implied
intimacy of the tete-a-tete across a table than a subtle change
manifested itself in his attitude. Gayety was still the keynote of his
talk, but the note of the personal and insistent had gone. And, at the
end, when he had paid the bill and she asked:
“What's my share, please?”
“Two-ten,” he replied promptly and without protest.
“My name,” said she, “is Anne Leffingwell.”
“Thank you,” he replied gravely. But the twinkle reappeared in his
eye as he added: “Of course, that was rudimentary about the check.”
Before she had fully digested this remark they were on the sidewalk
again. In the act of escorting her to his van, now under her guidance,
he suddenly stopped in front of hers and lost himself in wondering
contemplation of the group painted on the side in the best style of
“Suffering Raphael!” he exclaimed at length. “What's the lady in the
pink shroud supposed to be saying to the bearded patriarch in the
nightie? What's it all about, anyway?”
“The title,” replied Anne Leffingwell, indicating a line of
insignificant lettering, “is 'Swedish Wedding Feast.'“
“Wedding feast,” he repeated thoughtfully, looking from the picture
to his companion. “Well,” he raised an imaginary glass high, “prosit
The meaning was not to be mistaken. “Well, really,” she began
indignantly. “If you are going to take advantage—”
“You're not supposed to understand Latin,” interposed Mr. Dyke
hastily. He grew flustered and stood, for once, at a loss. For some
subtle reason her heart warmed to his awkwardness as it never would
have done to his over-enterprising adroitness.
“We must be going on,” she said.
He gave her a grateful glance. “I was afraid I'd spilled the apple
cart and scared Eve clean out of the orchard that time,” he murmured.
Having helped her to her place at the wheel, he stood bareheaded for a
moment, turned away, came back, and asked abruptly:
“Sister of Budge Leffingwell, the Princeton half-back?”
“I knew Old Man Chance had a happy coincidence up his sleeve
somewhere,” he declared with profound and joyous conviction.
“Are you a friend of Budge's?”
“Friend doesn't half express it! He made the touchdown that won me a
clean hundred last season. Outside of that I wouldn't know him from
Henry Ford. You see how Fate binds us together.”
“Will you tell me one thing, please?” pleaded Anne Leffingwell
desperately. “Have you ever been examined for this sort of thing?”
“Not yet. But then, you see, I'm only a beginner. This is my first
attempt. I'll get better as I go on.”
“Will you please crank my car?” requested Anne Leffingwell faintly.
Not until they reached Our Square did they speak again.
* * * * *
All things come to him who, sedulously acting the orchid's part,
vegetates and bides his time. To me in the passage of days came Anne
Leffingwell, to talk of many things, the conversation invariably
touching at some point upon Mr. Martin Dyke—and lingering there. She
was solicitous, not to say skeptical, regarding Mr. Dyke's reason. Came
also Martin Dyke to converse intelligently upon labor, free verse,
ouija, the football outlook, O. Henry, Crucible Steel, and Mr.
Leffingwell. He was both solicitous and skeptical regarding Mr.
Leffingwell's existence. Now when two young persons come separately to
an old person to discuss each other's affairs, it is a bad sign. Or
perhaps a good sign. Just as you choose.
Adopting the Mordaunt Estate's sardonic suggestion, Martin Dyke had
settled down to van life in a private alleyway next to Number 37. Anne
Leffingwell deemed this criminally extravagant since the rental of a
van must be prodigious. (“Tell her not to worry; my family own the
storage and moving plant,” was one of his many messages that I
neglected to deliver.) On his part he worried over the loneliness and
simplicity of her establishment—one small but neat maid—which he
deemed incongruous with her general effect of luxury and ease of life,
and wondered whether she had split with her family. (She hadn't; “I've
always been brought up like a—a—an artichoke,” she confided to me.
“So when father went West for six months, I just moved, and I'm going
to be a potato and see how I like it. Besides, I've got some research
work to do.”)
Every morning a taxi called and took her to an uptown library, and
every afternoon she came back to the harlequin-fronted house at Number
37. Dyke's hours were such that he saw her only when she returned
early, for he slept by day in his van, and worked most of the night on
electrical experiments which he was conducting over on the river front,
and which were to send his name resounding down the halls of fame. (The
newspapers have already caught an echo or two.) On his way back from
his experiments, he daily stopped at the shop of Eberling the Florist,
where, besides chaste and elegant set pieces inscribed “Gates Ajar” and
“Gone But Not Forgotten,” one may, if expert and insistent, obtain
really fresh roses. What connection these visits had with the matutinal
arrival of deep pink blossoms addressed to nobody, but delivered
regularly at the door of Number 37, I shall not divulge; no, not though
a base attempt was made to incriminate me in the transaction.
Between the pair who had arrived in Our Square on such friendly and
promising terms, there was now no communication when they met. She was
steadfastly adhering to that “Never. Never. Never!” What less,
indeed, could be expected of a faithful wife insulted by ardent hopes
of her husband's early demise from a young man whom she had known but
four hours? So it might have gone on to a sterile conclusion but for a
manifestation of rebellious artistic tastes on her part. The Mordaunt
Estate stopped at my bench to complain about them one afternoon when
Martin Dyke, having just breakfasted, had strolled over to discuss his
favorite topic. (She was, at that very moment, knitting her dainty
brows over the fifteenth bunch of pink fragrance and deciding
regretfully that this thing must come to an end even if she had to call
in Terry the Cop.)
“That lady in Number 37,” said the Mordaunt Estate bitterly, “ain't
the lady I thought she was.”
Martin Dyke, under the impulse of his persistent obsession, looked
up hopefully. “You mean that she isn't really Mrs. Leffingwell?”
“I mean I'm disappointed in her; that's what I mean. She wants the
house front painted over.”
“No!” I protested with polite incredulity.
“Where's her artistic sense? I thought she admired your work so
“She does, too,” confirmed the Estate. “But she says it's liable to
be misunderstood. She says ladies come there and order tea, and men ask
the hired girl when the barbers come on duty, and one old bird with
whiskers wanted to know if Ashtaroth, the Master of Destiny, told
fortunes there. So she wants I should tone it down. I guess,” pursued
the Mordaunt Estate, stricken with gloom over the difficulty of finding
the Perfect Tenant in an imperfect world, “I'll have to notice her to
“No; don't do that!” cried the young man. “Here! I'll repaint the
whole wall for you free of charge.”
“What do you know about R. Noovo art? Besides, paints cost
“I'll furnish the paint, too,” offered the reckless youth. “I'm
crazy about art. It's the only solace of my declining years. And,” he
added cunningly and with evil intent to flatter and cajole, “I can tone
down that design of yours without affecting its beauty and originality
Touched by this ingenuous tribute hardly less than by the appeal to
his frugality, the Estate accepted the offer. From four to five on the
following afternoon, Martin Dyke, appropriately clad in overalls, sat
on a plank and painted. On the afternoon following that the lady of the
house came home at four-thirty and caught him at it.
“That's going to be ever so much nicer,” she called graciously, not
recognizing him from the view of his industrious-appearing back.
“Thank you for those few kind words.”
“You!” she exclaimed indignantly as he turned a mild and benevolent
beam of the eye upon her. “What are you doing to my house?”
“Art. High art.”
“How did you get up there?”
“Ladder. High ladder.”
“You know that isn't what I mean at all.”
“Oh! Well, I've taken a contract to tone down the Midway aspect of
your highly respectable residence. One hour per day.”
“If you think that this performance is going to do you any good—“
she began with withering intonation.
“It's done that already,” he hastened to assert. “You've recognized
my existence again.”
“Only through trickery.”
“On the contrary, it's no trick at all to improve on the Mordaunt
Estate's art. Now that we've made up again, Miss or Mrs. Leffingwell,
as the case may be—”
“We haven't made up. There's nothing to make up.”
“Amended to 'Now that we're on speaking terms once more.' Accepted?
Thank you. Then let me thank you for those lovely flowers you've been
sending me. You can't imagine how they brighten and sweeten my simple
and unlovely van life, with their—”
“Mr. Dyke!” Her eyes were flashing now and her color was deeper than
the pink of the roses which she had rejected. “You must know that you
had no right to send me flowers and that in returning them—”
“Returning? But, dear lady—or girl, as the case may be [here she
stamped a violent foot]—if you feel it your duty to return them, why
not return them to the florist or the sender? Marked though my
attentions may have been, does that justify you in assuming that I am,
so to speak, the only floral prospect in the park? There's the Dominie,
for instance. He's notoriously your admirer, and I've seen him at
Eberling's quite lately.” (Mendacious young scoundrel!)
For the moment she was beguiled by the plausibility of his manner.
“How should he know that pink roses are my favorites?” she said
“How should I, for that matter?” he retorted at once. “Though
any idiot could see at a glance that you're at least half sister to the
whole rose tribe.”
“Now you're beginning again,” she complained. “You see, it's
impossible to treat you as an ordinary acquaintance.”
“But what do you think of me as a painter-man?” inquired the
Preparatory to entering the house she had taken off her gloves, and
now one pinky-brown hand rested on the door lintel below him. “The
question is,” said she, “wasn't it really you that sent the roses, and
don't you realize that you mustn't?”
“The question is,” he repeated, “whether, being denied the ordinary
avenues of approach to a shrine, one is justified in jumping the fence
with one's votive offerings. Now I hold—”
Her left hand, shifting a little, flashed a gleam of gold into his
eager eyes, striking him into silence. When he spoke again, all the
vividness was gone from his voice. “I beg your pardon,” he said. “Yes;
I sent the roses. You shan't be troubled again in that way—or any
other way. Do you mind if I finish this job?”
Victory for the defense! Yet the rosebud face of Anne Leffingwell
expressed concern and doubt rather than gratification. There is such a
thing as triumph being too complete.
“I think you're doing it very nicely,” was the demure reply.
Notwithstanding this encomium, the workman knocked off early to sit
on my bench and indulge in the expression of certain undeniable but
vague truisms, such as that while there is life there is hope, and it
isn't necessary to display a marriage license in order to purchase a
plain gold band. But his usual buoyant optimism was lacking; he spoke
like one who strives to convince himself. Later on the lady in the case
paused to offer to me some contumelious if impersonal reflections upon
love at first sight, which she stigmatized as a superstition unworthy
of the consideration of serious minds. But there was a dreamy light in
her eyes, and the smile on her lips, while it may not have been
expressive of serious consideration, was not wholly condemnatory. The
carnivorous orchid was having a good day and keeping its own counsel as
a sensible orchid expectant of continued patronage should do.
There was an obviously somber tinge to Mr. Dyke's color scheme on
the following afternoon, tending to an over-employment of black, when
an impressive and noiseless roadster purred its way to the curb, there
discharging a quite superb specimen of manhood in glorious raiment. The
motorist paused to regard with unfeigned surprise the design of the
house front. Presently he recovered sufficiently to ask:
“Could you tell me if Miss Leffingwell lives here?”
The painter turned upon his precarious plank so sharply that he was
all but precipitated into the area. “Who?” he said.
“You don't mean Mrs. Leffingwell?” queried the aerial operator in a
“No; I don't. I mean Miss Anne Leffingwell.”
The painter flourished the implement of his trade to the peril of
the immaculate garments below. “Toora-loo!” he warbled.
“I beg your pardon,” said the new arrival.
“I said 'Toora-loo.' It's a Patagonian expression signifying
satisfaction and relief; sort of I-thought-so-all-the-time effect.”
“You seem a rather unusual and learned sort of house painter,”
reflected the stalwart Adonis. “Is that Patagonian art?”
“Symbolism. It represents hope struggling upward from the oppression
of doubt and despair. That,” he added, splashing in a prodigal streak
of whooping scarlet, “is resurgent joy surmounting the misty
The opening door below him cut short the disquisition.
“Reg!” cried the tenant breathlessly. Straight into the big young
man's ready arms she dived, and the petrified and stricken occupant of
the dizzy plank heard her muffled voice quaver: “Wh—wh—wh—why didn't
you come before?”
To which the young giant responded in gallingly protective tones:
“You little idiot!”
The door closed after them. Martin Dyke, amateur house painter,
continued blindly to bedeck the face of a ruinous world with radiant
hues. After interminable hours (as he reckoned the fifteen elapsed
minutes) the tenant escorted her visitor to the door and stood watching
him as the powerful and unassertive motor departed. Dazedly the artist
descended from his plank to face her.
“Are you going?” he demanded.
A perfectly justifiable response to this unauthorized query would
have been that it was no concern of his. But there was that in Martin
Dyke's face which hurt the girl to see.
“Yes,” she replied.
“He isn't your husband.”
“You haven't any husband.”
She hung her head guiltily.
“Why did you invent one?”
Instead of replying verbally she raised her arm and pointed across
the roadway to a patch of worn green in the park. He followed the
indication with his eyes. A Keep-Off-the-Grass sign grinned spitefully
in his face.
“I see. The invention was for my special benefit.”
“Safety first,” she murmured.
“I never really believed it—except when you took me by surprise,”
he pursued. “That's why I—I went ahead.”
“You certainly went ahead,” she confirmed. “What are speed laws to
“You're telling me that I haven't played the game according to the
rules. I know I haven't. One has to make his own rules when Fate is in
the game against him.” He seemed to be reviewing something in his mind.
“Fate,” he observed sententiously, “is a cheap thimble-rigger.”
“Fate,” she said, “is the ghost around the corner.”
“A dark green, sixty-horse-power ghost, operated by a matinee hero,
a movie close-up, a tailor's model—”
“If you mean Reg, it's just as well for you he isn't here.”
“Pooh!” retorted the vengeful and embittered Dyke. “I could wreck
his loveliness with one flop of my paint-brush.”
“Doubtless,” she agreed with a side glance at the wall, now bleeding
from every pore. “It's a fearful weapon. Spare my poor Reg.”
“I suppose,” said Dyke, desperate now, but not quite bankrupt of
hope, “you'd like me to believe that he's your long-lost brother.”
She lowered her eyes, possibly to hide the mischief in them. “No,”
she returned hesitantly and consciously. “He isn't—exactly my
He recalled the initials, “R.B.W.,” on the car's door. Hope sank for
the third time without a bubble. “Good-bye,” said Martin Dyke.
“Surely you're not going to quit your job unfinished,” she
Dyke said something forcible and dismissive about the job.
“What will the Mordaunt Estate think?”
Dyke said something violent and destructive about the Mordaunt
“Perhaps you'd like to take the house, now that it's vacant.”
Dyke, having expressed a preference for the tomb as a place of
residence, went on his gloomful way shedding green paint on one side
and red on the other.
Insomnia, my old enemy, having clutched me that night, I went to my
window and looked abroad over Our Square, as Willy Woolly's memorial
clock was striking four (it being actually five-thirty). A shocking
sight afflicted my eyes. My bench was occupied by a bum. Hearing the
measured footsteps of Terry the Cop, guardian of our destinies, I
looked for a swift and painful eviction. Terry, after a glance, passed
on. Nothing is worse for insomnia than an unsolved mystery. Slipping
into my clothes, I made my way softly to the spot. There in the seat
where I was wont to pursue my even tenor as an orchid slumbered Martin
Dyke, amateur desecrator of other men's houses, challenger of the
wayward fates, fanatic of a will-o'-the-wisp pursuit, desperate
adventurer in the uncharted realms of love; and in his face, turned
toward the polychromatic abominations of the house, so soon to be
deserted, was all the pathos and all the beauty of illusion-haunted
Ah, youth! Blundering, ridiculous youth! An absurd period, excusable
only on the score of its brevity. A parlous condition! A traitorous
guide, froward, inspired of all manner of levity, pursuant of hopeless
phantasms, dupe of roseate and pernicious myths (love-at-first-sight,
and the like), butt of the High Gods' stinging laughter, deserving of
nothing kinder than mockery from the aged and the wise—which is
doubtless why we old and sage folk thank Heaven daily, uplifting
cracked voices and withered hands, that we are no longer young. A pious
and fraudulent litany for which may we be forgiven! My young friend on
the bench stirred. A shaft of moonlight, streaming through the bush
upon his face, bewitched him to unguarded speech:
“Dominie, I have been dreaming.”
Fearing to break the spell, I stood silent.
“A fairy came down to me and touched her lips to mine, so lightly,
so softly. Did you know there were fairies in Our Square, Dominie?”
“I think her name is Happiness. Is there such a fairy in this world,
“There has been.”
“Then there will always be. I think it was Happiness because she
went away so quickly.”
“Happiness does. Did you try to hold her?”
“So hard! But I was clumsy and rough. She slipped through my arms.”
“Did she leave nothing?”
“Then what is this?” I lifted from the ground at his feet a single
petal of pink rose, fragrant, unwithered, and placed it in his hand.
“The fairy's kiss,” he said dreamily. “That's for farewell.”
The moon, dipped beyond a cloud, dissolved the spell. Youth
straightened up brusquely on its bench, rubbing enchantment from its
“Have I been talking in my sleep, Dominie?”
“What kind of talk? Nonsense?”
“Nonsense—or wisdom. How should I know?”
“Dominie, is there a perfume in the air? A smell of roses?”
“Look in your hand.”
He opened his fingers slowly and closed them again, tenderly,
jealously. “I must go now,” he said vaguely. “May I come back to see
you sometimes, Dominie?”
“Perhaps you'll bring Happiness with you,” I said.
But he only shook his head. On the morrow his van was gone from the
alley and the house at Number 37, which had once been the House of
Silvery Voices, was voiceless again.
* * * * *
Something of the savor of life went with the vanners out of Our
Square. I missed their broad-ranging and casual talk of politics, art,
religion, the fourth dimension, and one another. Yet I felt sure that I
should see them both again. There is a spell woven in Our Square—it
has held me these sixty years and more, and I wonder at times whether
Death himself can break it—which draws back the hearts that have once
known the place. It was a long month, though, before the butterfly
fluttered back. More radiant than ever she looked, glowing softly in
the brave November sun, as she approached my bench. But there was
something indefinably wistful about her. She said that she had come to
satisfy her awakened appetite for the high art of R. Noovo, as she
faced the unaltered and violent frontage of Number 37.
“Empty,” said I.
“Then he didn't take my advice and rent it. The painter-man, I
“I haven't an idea.”
“Doesn't he ever come back?”
“You must not assume,” said I with severity, “that you are the only
devotee of high art. You may perhaps compare your devotion to that of
another whom I might mention when you, too, have lost ten pounds and
gained ten years—”
“Dominie! Has he?”
“Has he what?”
“G-g-g-gained ten pounds. I mean, lost ten years.”
“I haven't said so.”
“Dominie, you are a cruel old man,” accused the butterfly.
“And you are a wicked woman.”
“I'm not. I'm only twenty,” was her irrelevant but natural defense.
“Witness, on your oath, answer; were you at any time in the evening
or night before you departed from this, Our Square, leaving us
desolate—were you, I say, abroad in the park?
“Y-y-yes, your Honor.”
“In the immediate vicinity of this bench?”
“Benches are very alike in the dark.”
“But occupants of them are not. Don't fence with the court. Were you
wearing one or more roses of the general hue and device of those now
displayed in your cheeks?”
“The honorable court has nothing to do with my face,” said the
“On the contrary, your face is the corpus delicti. Did you,
taking advantage of the unconscious and hence defenseless condition of
my client, that is, of Mr. Martin Dyke, lean over him and deliberately
“No! No! No! No! No!” cried the butterfly with great and
unconvincing fervor. “How dare you accuse me of such a thing?”
“On the circumstantial evidence of a pink rose petal. But worse is
coming. The charge is unprovoked and willful murder.”
Butterflies are strange creatures. This one seemed far less
concerned over the latter than the former accusation. “Of whom?” she
“You have killed a budding poet.” Here I violated a sacred if
implied confidence by relating what the bewitched sleeper on the bench
had said under the spell of the moon.
The result was most gratifying. The butterfly assured me with
indignation that it was only a cold in her head, which had been
annoying her for days: that was what made her eyes act so, and I
was a suspicious and malevolent old gentleman—and—and—and perhaps
some day she and Mr. Martin Dyke might happen to meet.
“Is that a message?” I asked.
“No,” answered the butterfly with a suspicion of panic in her eyes.
“Then?” I queried.
“He's so—so awfully go-aheadish,” she complained.
“I'll drop him a hint,” I offered kindly.
“It might do some good. I'm afraid of him,” she confessed.
“And a little bit of yourself?” I suggested.
The look of scorn which she bent upon me would have withered
incontinently anything less hardy than a butterfly-devouring orchid. It
passed and thoughtfulness supplanted it. “If you really think that he
could be influenced to be more—well, more conventional—”
“I guarantee nothing; but I'm a pedagogue by profession and have
taught some hard subjects in my time.”
“Then do you think you could give him a little message, word for
word as I give it to you?”
“Senile decay,” I admitted, “may have paralyzed most of my
faculties, but as a repeater of messages verbatim, I am faithful as a
“Tell him this, then.” She ticked the message off on her fingers. “A
half is not exactly the same as a whole. Don't forget the 'exactly.'“
“Is this an occasion for mathematical axioms?” I demanded. But she
had already gone, with a parting injunction to be precise.
When, three days thereafter, I retailed that banality to young Mr.
Dyke, it produced a startling though not instantaneous effect.
“I've got it!” he shouted.
“Don't scare me off my bench! What is it you've got?”
“The answer. She said he was not exactly her brother.”
“That bully-looking big chap in the roadster who took her away.” He
delivered this shameless reversal of a passionately asserted opinion
without a quiver. “Now she says a half isn't exactly the same as a
whole. He wasn't exactly her brother, she said; he's her half brother.
'Toora-loora-loo,' as we say in Patagonia.”
“For Patagonia it sounds reasonable. What next?”
“Next and immediately,” said Mr. Dyke, “I am obtaining an address
from the Mordaunt Estate, and I am then taking this evening off.”
“Take some advice also, my boy,” said I, mindful of the butterfly's
alarms. “Go slow.”
“Slow! Haven't I lost time enough already?”
“Perhaps. But now you've got all there is. Don't force the game.
You've frightened that poor child so that she never can feel sure what
you're going to do next.”
“Neither can I, Dominie,” confessed the candid youth. “But you're
quite right. I'll clamp on the brakes. I'll be as cool and conventional
as a slice of lemon on an iced clam. 'How well you're looking to-night,
Miss Leffingwell'—that'll be my nearest approach to unguarded
personalities. Trust me, Dominie, and thank you for the tip.”
The memorial and erratic clock of Our Square was just striking seven
of the following morning, meaning approximately eight-forty, when my
astonished eyes again beheld Martin Dyke seated on my bench,
beautifully though inappropriately clad in full evening dress with a
pink rose in his coat lapel, and gazing at Number 37 with a wild,
“What have you been doing here all night?” I asked.
I pointed to the flower. “Where did you get that?”
“A fairy gift.”
“Martin,” said I, “did you abide by my well-meant and inspired
“Dominie,” replied the youth with a guilty flush, “I did my best.
I—I tried to. You mustn't think—Nothing is settled. It's only that—”
“It's only that Age is a fool to advise Youth. Why should I expect
you to abide by my silly counsels? Who am I to interfere with the
dominant fates! Says the snail to the avalanche: 'Go slow!' and the
“Hey! Hi! You Mordaunt Estate!” broke in young Mr. Dyke, shouting.
“I beg your pardon, Dominie, I've got to see the Estate for a minute.”
Rushing across the street, he intercepted that institutional
gentleman in the act of dipping a brush into a can in front of Number
“Don't, for Heaven's sake, touch that front!” implored the improver
“Why not?” demanded the Estate.
“I want to rent it. As it is. From to-day.”
The Mordaunt Estate turned a dull, Wagboomish look of denial upon
him. “Nope,” said he. “I've had enough of short rentals. It don't pay.
I'm going to paint her up and lease her for good.”
“I'll take your lease,” insisted Martin Dyke.
“For how long a period?” inquired the other, in terms of the Estate
The light that never was, on sea or land, the look that I had
surprised on the face of illusion-haunted Youth in the moon glow,
gleamed in Martin Dyke's eyes.
“Say a million years,” he answered softly.
THE GUARDIAN OF GOD'S ACRE
As far as the eye could apprehend him, he was palpably an outlander.
No such pink of perfection ever sprung from the simple soil of Our
Square. A hard pink it was, suggestive less of the flower than of
enameled metal. He was freshly shaved, freshly pressed, freshly
anointed, and, as he paced gallantly across my vision, I perceived him
to be slightly grizzled at the temples, but nevertheless of a vigorous
and grim youthfulness that was almost daunting. Not until he returned
and stood before me with his feet planted a little apart, giving an
impression of purposeful immovability to his wiry figure, did I note
that his eyes belied the general jauntiness of his personality. They
were cold, direct eyes, with a filmy appearance, rather like those of a
morose and self-centered turtle which had lived in our fountain until
the day the Rosser twins fell in, when it crawled out and emigrated.
“Nice day,” said the stranger, shifting a patent-leathered foot out
of a puddle.
“Very,” I agreed. Finical over-accuracy about the weather is likely
to discourage a budding acquaintanceship.
“Have one?” He extended a gemmed cigarette-case, and when, removing
my pipe, I had declined in suitable terms, lighted up, himself. He then
sat down upon the dryest portion of the bench not occupied by my
“Whiplash win in the fi'th,” he volunteered presently.
“Yes?” said I with a polite but spurious show of interest.
“Under a pull. Spread-eagled his field.”
“Who is Whiplash, may I ask?”
“Oh, Gaw!” said the pink man, appalled. He searched my face
suspiciously. “A hoss,” he stated at length, satisfied of my ignorance.
After several reflective puffs, the smoke of which insufficiently
veiled his furtive appraisal of myself, he tried again:
“They give O'Dowd a shade, last night.”
“Indeed? Who did?”
“The sporting writers.”
“As a testimonial?” I inquired, adding that a shade, whether of the
lamp or sun species seemed an unusual sort of gift.
My interlocutor groaned. He drew from the pocket of his gray-check
cutaway, purple and fine linen, the purple being an ornate and
indecipherable monogram, wherewith to wipe his troubled brow. Susan
Gluck's Orphan, who was playing down-wind, paused to inhale deeply and
with a beatific expression. Restoring the fragrant square to its
repository, the pink one essayed another conversational skirmish.
“The Reds copped again yesterday.”
“If you are referring to the raid on Anarchist Headquarters in
Avenue C, I should have inferred that the Reds were copped, to
use your term.”
Curt and contemptuous laughter was his response. “Don't you ever
read the papers, down here?”
“Certainly,” I retorted with some spirit, for the implied slur upon
Our Square stung me. “In fact, I was reading one of our local
publications when you inter—when you arrived. It contains some very
“Yeh?” said the hard, pink man politely.
“For example, in this issue I find the following apostrophe.” I
proceeded to read aloud:
“Farewell, our dear one, we must part,
For thou hast gone to heavenly home,
While we below with aching heart
Must long for thee and ever moan.”
“Swell stuff,” commented the sharer of my bench, with determined
interest. “Poetry's a little out of my line, but I'm for it. Who
“It is signed 'Loving Father and 3 Sisters.' But the actual
authorship rests with the long gentleman in black whom you see leaning
on the park fence yonder. His name is Bartholomew Storrs and he is the
elegiac or mortuary or memorial laureate of Our Square.”
This was said with intent to mortify the soul of my new acquaintance
in revenge for his previous display of erudition. The bewilderment in
his face told me that I had scored heavily. But he quickly rallied.
“Do I get you right?” he queried. “Does he write those hymns for
other folks to sign?”
“What does he do that for?”
“Money. He gets as high as five dollars per stanza.”
“Some salesman!” My hard-faced companion regarded the lank figure
overhanging the fence with new respect. “Looks to me like the original
Gloom,” he observed. “What's his grouch?”
“He must have a bum one!”
“He has a busy one. He expends a great amount of time and sorrow
repenting of our sins.”
“Whose sins?” asked the other, opening wider his dull and weary
“Ours. His neighbors. Everybody in Our Square.”
My interlocutor promptly and fitly put into words the feeling which
had long lurked within my consciousness, ashamed to express itself
against a monument of dismal pity such as Bartholomew Storrs. “He's got
a nerve!” he asserted.
Warming to him for his pithy analysis of character, I enlarged upon
my theme. “He rebukes MacLachan for past drunkenness. He mourns for
Schepstein, who occasionally helps out a friend at ten per cent, as a
usurer. He once accused old Madame Tallafferr of pride, but he'll never
do that again. He calls the Little Red Doctor, our local physician, to
account for profanity, and gets a fresh sample every time. Even against
the Bonnie Lassie, whose sculptures you can just see in that little
house near the corner”—I waved an illustrative hand—“he can quote
Scripture, as to graven images. We all revere and respect and hate him.
He's coming this way now.”
“Good day, Dominie,” said Bartholomew Storrs, as he passed, in such
a tone as a very superior angel might employ toward a particularly
“That frown,” I explained to my companion, after returning the
salutation, “means that I failed to attend church yesterday.”
But the hard, pink man had lost interest in Bartholomew. “Called you
'Dominie,' didn't he?” he remarked. “I thought I had you right. Heard
of you from a little red-headed ginger-box named Smith.”
“You know the Little Red Doctor?”
“I met him,” he replied evasively. “He told me to look you up. 'You
talk to the Dominie,' he says.”
“I'm coming to that.” He leaned forward to place a muscular and
confidential hand on my knee. “First, I'd like to do you a little
favor,” he continued in his husky and intimate voice. “If you're
looking for some quick and easy money, I got a little tip that I'd like
to pass on to you.”
“Evidently the Little Red Doctor told you that my mind was a
tottering ruin, which may be quite true; but if it's a matter of
investing in the Peruvian Gold, Rubber Tree, and Perpetual Motion
Concession, I'm reluctantly compelled—”
“Forget it!” adjured the hard, pink man in a tone which secured my
silence and almost my confidence. “This is a hoss. Seven to one, and a
sure cop. I know hosses. I've owned 'em.”
“Thank you, but I can't afford such luxuries as betting.”
“You can't afford not to have something down on this if it's
only a shoestring. No? Oh—well!”
Again drawing the art-square from his pocket he lifted his
pearl-gray derby and dabbed despairingly at his brow. Catching the
scent hot and fresh, Susan Gluck's Orphan came dashing up-wind giving
tongue, or rather, nose, voluptuously.
“Mm-m-m! Snmmff!” inhaled the Orphan, wrinkling ecstatic nostrils.
“Mister, lemme smell it some more!”
Graciously the dispenser of fragrance waved his balm-laden
handkerchief. “Like it, kiddie?” he said.
“Oh, it's grand!” She stretched out her little grimy paws.
“Please, Mister,” she entreated, “would you flop it over 'em, just
The pink man tossed it to her. “Take it along and, when you get it
all snuffed up, give it back to the Dominie here for me.”
“Oh, gracious!” said the Orphan, incredulous at this bounty. “Can I
have it till to-morrah?”
“Sure! What's the big idea for to-morrow?”
“I'm goin' to a funeral. I want it to cry in,” said the Orphan
“A funeral?” I asked. “In Our Square? Whose?”
“My cousin Minnie. She's goin' to be buried in God's Acre, an' I'm
invited 'cause I'm a r'lation. She married a sporting gentleman named
Hines an' she died yesterday,” said the precocious Orphan.
So Minnie Munn, pretty, blithe, life-loving Minnie, whose going had
hurt us so, had come back to Our Square, with all her love of life
quenched. She had promised that she would come back, in the little,
hysterical, defiant note she left under the door. Her father and mother
must wait and not worry. There are thousands of homes, I suppose, in
which are buried just such letters as Minnie's farewell to her parents;
rebellious, passionate, yearning, pitiful. Ah, well! The moth must
break its chrysalis. The flower must rend its bonds toward the light.
Little Minnie was “going on the stage.” A garish and perilous stage it
was, whereon Innocence plays a part as sorry as it is brief. And now
she was making her exit, without applause. Memory brought back a
picture of Minnie as I had first seen her, a wee thing, blinking and
smiling in the arms of her Madonna-faced mother, on a bench in Our
Square, and the mother (who could not wait for the promised return—she
has lain in God's Acre these three years) crooning to her an
unforgettable song, mournfully prophetic:
“Why did I bring thee, Sweet
Into a world of sin?—
Into a world of wonder and doubt
With sorrows and snares for the little white feet—
Into a world whence the going out
Is as dark as the coming in!”
Old lips readily lend themselves to memory; I suppose I must have
repeated the final lines aloud, for the pink man said, wearily but
“Very pretty. Something more in the local line?”
“Hardly.” I smiled. Between Bartholomew Storr's elegies and William
Young's “Wish-makers' Town” stretches an infinite chasm.
“What's this—now—God's Acre the kid was talking about?” was his
“An old local graveyard.”
“Anything interesting?” he asked carelessly.
“If you're interested in that sort of thing. Are you an antiquary?”
“Sure!” he replied with such offhand promptitude that I was certain
the answer would have been the same had I asked him if he was a
“Come along, then. I'll take you there.”
To reach that little green space of peace amidst our turmoil of the
crowded, encroaching slums, we must pass the Bonnie Lassie's house,
where her tiny figurines, touched with the fire of her love and her
genius, which are perhaps one and the same, stand ever on guard,
looking out over Our Square from her windows. Judging by his appearance
and conversation, I should have supposed my companion to be as little
concerned with art as with, let us say, poetry or local antiquities.
But he stopped dead in his tracks, before the first window. Fingers
that were like steel claws buried themselves in my arm. The other hand
“What's that?” he muttered fiercely.
“That,” to which he was pointing, was a pictorial bronze, the figure
of a girl, upright in a cockleshell boat, made of a rose-petal, her
arms outspread to the breeze that was bearing her out across sunlit
ripples. Beneath was the legend: “Far Ports.” The face, eager,
laughing, passionate, adventurous, was the face of Minnie Munn. Therein
the Bonnie Lassie had been prophetess as well as poet and sculptress,
for she had finished the bronze before Minnie left us.
“That,” I answered the strong, pink man, trying to shake loose his
grip, “is a sculpture by Cecily Willard, otherwise Mrs. Cyrus Staten.”
“What'll she take for it?”
“It can't be bought.” I spoke with authority, for the figurines that
the Bonnie Lassie sets in her window are not for sale, but for us of
Our Square, who love them.
“Anything can be bought,” he retorted, with his quiet, hoarse
persuasiveness, “at a price. I've got the price, no matter what it is.”
Suddenly I understood my pink and hard acquaintance. I understood
that stale look in his eyes. Tears do not bring that. Nothing brings it
but sleepless thoughts beyond the assuagement of tears. Behind such
eyes the heart is aching cold and the brain searing hot. Who should
know better than I, though the kindly years have brought their healing!
But here was a wound, raw and fresh and savage. I put my hand on his
“What was little Minnie to you?” I asked, and answered myself.
“You're Hines. You're the man she married.”
“Yes. I'm Chris Hines.”
“You've brought her back to us,” I said stupidly.
“She made me promise.”
Strange how Our Square binds the heartstrings of those who have once
lived in it! To find it unendurable in life, to yearn back to it in the
hour of death! Many have known the experience. So our tiny God's Acre,
shrunk to a small fraction of human acreage through pressure of the
encroaching tenements, has filled up until now it has space but for few
more of the returning. Laws have been invoked and high and learned
courts appealed to for the jealously guarded right to sleep there, as
Minnie Munn was so soon to sleep beside her mother.
I told Hines that I would see the Bonnie Lassie about the statuette,
and led him on, through the nagged and echoing passage and the iron
gate, to the white-studded space of graves. The new excavation showed,
brown against the bright verdure. Above it stood the headstone of the
Munns, solemn and proud, the cost of a quarter-year's salary, at the
pitiful wage which little, broken Mr. Munn drew from his municipal
clerkship. Hines's elegant coat rippled on his chest, above what may
have been a shudder, as he looked about him.
“It's crowded,” he muttered.
“We lie close, as we lived close, in Our Square. I am glad for her
father's sake that Minnie wished to come back.”
“She said she couldn't rest peaceful anywhere else. She said she had
some sort of right to be here.”
“The Munns belong to what we call the Inalienables in Our Square,”
said I, and told him of the high court decision which secured to the
descendants of the original “churchyard membership,” and to them alone,
the inalienable right to lie in God's Acre, provided, as in the ancient
charter, they had “died in honorable estate.” I added: “Bartholomew
Storrs, as sexton, has constituted himself watchdog of our graves and
censor of our dead. He carried one case to the Supreme Court in an
attempt to keep an unhappy woman from sleeping in that pious company.”
“That sour-faced prohibitionist?” growled Mr. Hines, employing what
I suspect to be the blackest anathema in his lexicon. “Is he the
“The same. Our mortuary genius,” I confirmed.
“She was a good girl, Min was,” said Mr. Hines firmly, though, it
might appear, a trifle inconsequentially: “I don't care what they say.
Anyway, after I met up with her”; in which qualifying afterthought lay
a whole sorrowful and veiled history.
“What did they say about her, down here?” he asked jealously.
“Oh, there were rumors. They didn't reach her father.”
“No: tell me,” he persisted. “I gotta know.”
Because Mr. Hines had already impressed himself upon me as one with
whom straight talk would serve best, I acceded.
“Bartholomew Storrs said that her feet took hold on hell.”
Mr. Hines's face remained impassive. Only his hands worked slightly,
perhaps kneading an imaginary throat. I perceived him to be a person of
considerable and perhaps formidable self-control.
“Not that she hadn't her friends. The Bonnie Lassie would have stood
by her if she had come back, and little Mrs. Morse, and our Dr. Smith,
and MacLachan, who thought he had lost his own girl the same way,
and—and others, plenty.”
“And you, Dominie,” said the hard, pink Mr. Hines.
“My dear sir, old men cannot afford harsh judgments. They are too
near their own time.”
“Yeh?” said Mr. Hines absently. “I guess that's right.” But his mind
was plainly elsewhere. “When would you say would be the best time to do
business with old Funeral-Clothes?” he asked after a thoughtful pause.
“You want to see Bartholomew Storrs?” I interpreted.
“Sure. I gotta deliver the death certificate to him if he runs the
graveyard, haven't I?”
“Such is the procedure, I believe.”
“Besides,” he added with a leer, “I want to get some of that weepy
poetry of his.”
“Well; he'll sell it to you readily.”
“I'll say he'll sell it to me,” returned Mr. Hines with a grimness
which I failed to comprehend.
“Now is as good a time as any to catch him in his office.” I pointed
to a sign at the farther end of the yard.
Mr. Hines seemed in no hurry to go. With his elegantly lacquered
cane, he picked at the sod, undecidedly. His chill, veiled eyes roved
about the open space. He lifted his pearl-gray derby, and, for lack of
a handkerchief, wiped his forehead with the back of his hand. Although
the May day was cool and brisk with wind, his knuckles glistened when
they descended. I began to suspect that, despite his stony
self-command, Mr. Hines's nerves were not all that they should be.
“Perhaps you'd like me to introduce you to Mr. Storrs,” I hazarded.
The cold and filmy eyes gleamed with an instant's dim warmth.
“Dominie, you're a good guy,” responded Mr. Hines. “If a dead cinch at
ten to one, all fruited up for next week, the kind of thing you don't
hand on to your own brother, would be any use to you—No? I'm off
again,” he apologized. “Well—let's go.”
We went. At the doorstep of Bartholomew Storrs's office he paused.
“This sexton-guy,” he said anxiously, “he don't play the ponies,
ever, I wouldn't suppose?”
“No more often than he commits murder or goes to sleep in church,” I
“Yeh?” he answered, disheartened. “I gotta get to him some other
way. On the poetry—and that's out of my line.”
“I don't quite see what your difficulty is.”
“By what you tell me, it's easier to break into a swell Fifth Avenue
Club than into this place.”
“Except for those having the vested right, as your wife has.”
“And this sexton-guy handles the concession for—he's got the
say-so,” he corrected himself hastily—“on who goes in and who stays
out. Is that right?”
“And he'd rather keep 'em out than let 'em in?”
“Bartholomew,” I explained, “considers that the honor of God's Acre
is in his keeping. He has a fierce sort of jealousy about it, as if he
had a proprietary interest in the place.”
“I get you!” Mr. Hines's corded throat worked painfully. “You don't
suppose the old goat would slip Min a blackball?” he gulped.
“How can he? As an 'Inalienable'—”
“Yeh; I know. But wasn't there something about a clean record? I'll
tell you, Dominie”—Mr. Hines's husky but assured voice trailed
away into a miserable, thick whisper—“as to what he said—about her
feet taking hold on hell—I guess there was a time—I guess about one
more slip—I guess I didn't run across her any too quick. But there
never was a straighter, truer girl than Min was with me. I gotta get
her planted right, Dominie. I gotta do it,” he concluded with
“I see no difficulty,” I assured him. “The charter specifies '
died in honorable estate.' Matrimony is an honorable estate. How she
lived before that is between her and a gentler Judge than Bartholomew
“Give her a straight course and a fair judge and I'll back Min to
the limit,” said Mr. Hines so simply and loyally that no suggestion of
irreverence could attach to him.
Nevertheless, doubt was mingled with determination in his florid
face as he rang the bell. Bartholomew Storrs opened to us, himself.
When he saw me, he hastily pocketed a Rhyming Dictionary. I introduced
my companion, stating, by way of a favorable opening, that he was
interested in memorial poetry.
“Very pleased,” said Bartholomew Storrs in his deep, lugubrious
tones. “Bereaved husband?”
Mr. Hines nodded.
“Here's a tasty thing I just completed,” continued the poet, and,
extending a benignant hand toward the visitor he intoned nasally:
“Together we have lived our life
Till thou hast gone on high.
But I will come to thee, dear Wife,
In the sweet bye-and-bye.”
“That style five dollars,” he said.
“You're on,” barked Mr. Hines. “I'll take it.”
“To be published, I suppose, on the first anniversary of death.
Shall I look after the insertion in the papers?” queried the obliging
poet, who split an advertising agent's percentage on memorial notices
placed by him.
“Sure. Got any more? I'd spend a hundred to do this right.”
With a smile of astounded gratification, Bartholomew accepted the
roll of bills, fresh and crisp as the visitor himself. To do him
justice, I believe that his pleasure was due as much to the recognition
of his genius as to the stipend it had earned.
“Perhaps you'd like a special elegy to be read at the grave,” he
rumbled eagerly. “When and where did the interment take place?”
The other glared at him in stony surprise. “It ain't taken place.
It's to-morrow. Ain't you on? I'm Hines.”
A frown darkened the sexton's heavy features. He shook a
reprehensive head. “An unfortunate case,” he boomed; “most unfortunate.
I will not conceal from you, Mr. Hines, that I have consulted our
attorneys upon this case, and unhappily—unhappily, I say—they hold
that there is no basis for exclusion provided the certificate is in
form. You have it with you?”
Impassive and inscrutable, Mr. Hines tapped his breast-pocket.
The conscience of a responsible sexton being assuaged, Bartholomew's
expression mollified into that of the flattered poet.
“Such being the case,” he pursued, “there can be no objection to the
reading of an elegy as part of the service. Who is to officiate?”
“The Reverend Doctor Hackett.”
“He has retired these two years,” said the sexton doubtfully. “He is
very old. His mind sometimes wanders.”
“She wouldn't have any one else,” asserted the hard, pink Mr. Hines.
“She was as particular about that as about being buried yonder.” He
jerked his head toward the window.
“Very well. I will be at the grave. I always am. Trust me to guide
the reverend gentleman over any breach in his memory. Excuse me for a
moment while I look up my elegies.”
“Say,” said Mr. Hines in his hoarse, confidential croak, as the
poet-sexton retired, “this is dead easy. Why, the guy's on the make.
For sale. He'll stand for anything. Passing out this stuff for other
folks to sign! He's a crook!”
“Make no such mistake,” I advised. “Bartholomew is as honest a man
as lives, in his own belief.”
“Very likely. That's the worst kind,” pronounced the expert Mr.
Further commentary was cut off by the return of the sexton-poet. “If
you will kindly give me the death certificate of the late lamented,”
“What becomes of it after I deliver it?” asked Mr. Hines.
“Read, attested, and filed officially.”
“Any one else but you see it?”
“That's all right, then.”
Hardly had Bartholomew Storrs glanced at the document received from
Mr. Hines than he lifted a stiffening face.
“What is this?” he challenged.
The official tapped the paper with a gaunt finger. “'Minna Merivale,
aged twenty-five,'“ he read.
“That's the name she went by.”
“Unmarried” read Bartholomew Storrs in a voice of doom.
In the sexton's eyes gleamed an unholy savagery of satisfaction.
“Take her away.”
“Bury her somewhere else. Do not think that you can pollute the
“Bartholomew!” I broke in, stepping hastily in front of Mr. Hines,
for I had seen all the pink ebb out of his face, leaving it a dreadful
sort of gray; and I had no desire to be witness of a murder, however
much I might deem it justified.
“I'll handle him,” said Mr. Hines steadily. “Now; you! You got my
hundred in your jeans, ain't you!”
“Bribery!” boomed the sexton. He drew out the roll of bills and let
it fall from his contaminated fingers.
“Sure! Bribery,” railed the other. “What'd you think? Ain't it
enough for what I'm asking?” The two men glared at each other.
I broke the silence. “Exactly what are you asking, Mr. Hines?”
“File that”—he touched the document—“and forget it. Let Min rest
out there as my wife, like she ought to have been.”
“Why didn't you make her your wife?” thundered the accuser.
Some invisible thing gripped the corded throat of Mr. Hines.
“Couldn't,” he gulped. “There was—another. She wouldn't divorce me.”
“Your sin has found you out,” declared the self-constituted judge of
the dead with a dismal sort of relish.
“Yeh? That's all right. I'll pay for it. But she's paid
“As she lived so she has died, in sin,” the inexorable voice
answered. “Let her seek burial elsewhere.”
Mr. Hines leaned forward. His expression and tone were passionless
as those of a statistician proffering a tabulation: his words were fit
to wring the heart of a stone.
“She's dead, ain't she?” he argued gently. “She can't hurt any one,
can she? 'Specially if they don't know.”
Bartholomew Storrs made a gesture of repulsion.
“Well, who'll she hurt?” pursued the other, in his form of pure and
abstract reasoning. “Not her mother, I guess. Her mother's waiting for
her; that's what Min said when she was—was going. And her father'll be
on the other side of her. And that's all. Min never harmed anybody but
herself when she was alive. How's she going to do 'em any damage now,
just lying there, resting? Be reasonable, man!”
Be pitiful, oh, man! For there was a time not so long past when you,
with all your stern probity and your unwinking conscience, needed pity;
yes, and pleaded for it when the mind was out of control. Think back,
Bartholomew Storrs, to the day when you stood by another grave, close
to that which waits to-day for the weary sleeper—Bartholomew Storrs
rested, opened the door and stood by it, grimly waiting. Mr. Hines
turned to me.
“What is this thing, Dominie; a man or a snake? Will I kill it?”
“Bartholomew,” I began. “When we—”
“Not a word from you, Dominie. My mind is made up.”
“The girl is Isabel Munn's daughter.”
I saw a tremor shake the gaunt frame.
“When we buried Isabel Munn, you came back in the night to weep at
He thrust out a warding hand toward me.
“Why did you weep over Isabel Munn's grave, Bartholomew?”
“Speak no evil of the dead,” he cried wildly.
“It is not in my mind. She was a good and pure woman. What would she
have been if she had listened to you?”
“What do you know? Who betrayed me?”
“You, yourself. When you came down with pneumonia after the burial,
I sat with you through a night of delirium.”
Bartholomew Storrs bowed his head.
“My sin hath found me out,” he groaned. “God knows I loved her,
and—and I hadn't the strength not to tell her. I'd have given up
everything for her, my hope of heaven, my—my—I 'd have given up my
office and gone away from God's Acre! And that was twenty years ago.
I—I don't sleep o' nights yet, for thinking.”
“Well, you ain't the only one,” said the dull voice of Mr. Hines.
“You're tempting me!” Bartholomew Storrs snarled at him. “You're
trying to make me false to my trust.”
“Just to let her lie by her mother, like her mother would ask you if
“Don't say it to me!” He beat his head with his clenched hand.
Recovering command of himself, he straightened up, taking a deep
breath: “I must be guided by my conscience and my God,” he said
professionally, and I noted a more reverent intonation given to the
former than to the latter. A bad sign.
“Isabel Munn's daughter, Bartholomew,” I reminded him.
Instead of replying he staggered out of the door. Through the window
we saw him, a moment later, posting down the street, bareheaded and
stony-eyed, like one spurred by tormenting thoughts.
“Will he do it, do you think?” queried the anxious-visaged Mr.
I shook my head in doubt. With a man like Bartholomew Storrs, one
can never tell.
Old memories are restless companions for the old. So I found them
that night. But there is balm for sleeplessness in the leafy quiet of
Our Square. I went out to my bench, seeking it, and found an occupant
“We ain't the only ones that need a jab of dope, Dominie,” said Mr.
Hines, hard and pink and hoarsely confidential as when I first saw him.
“No? Who else?” Though I suspected, of course.
“Old Gloom. He's over in the Acre.”
“Did you meet him there? What did he say?”
“I ducked him. He never saw me. He was—well, I guess he was
praying,” said Mr. Hines shamefacedly.
“Praying? At the Munn grave?”
“That's it. Groaning and saying, 'A sign, O Lord! Vouchsafe thy
servant a sign!' Kept saying it over and over.”
“For guidance to-morrow,” I murmured. “Mr. Hines, I'm not sure that
I know Bartholomew Storrs's God. Nor can I tell what manner of sign he
might give, or with what meaning. But if I know my God, whom I believe
to be the true God, your Minnie is safe with him.”
“Yeh? You're a good guy, Dominie,” said Mr. Hines in his emotionless
I took him home with me to sleep. But we did not sleep. We smoked.
Minnie Munn's funeral morning dawned clear and fresh. No word came
from Bartholomew Storrs. I tried to find him, but without avail.
“We'll go through with it,” said Mr. Hines quietly.
How small and insignificant seemed our tiny God's Acre, as the few
mourners crept into it behind Minnie Munn's body; the gravestones like
petty dots upon the teeming earth, dwarfed by the overshadowing
tenements, as if death were but an incident in the vast, unhasting,
continuous sweep of life, as indeed perhaps it is. Then the grandeur of
the funeral service, which links death to immortality, was bodied forth
in the aged minister's trembling voice, and by it the things which are
of life were dwarfed to nothingness. But my uneasy mind refused to be
bound by the words; it was concerned with Bartholomew Storrs, standing
grim, haggard, inscrutable, beside the grave, his eyes upturned and
waiting. Too well I knew for what he was waiting; his sign. So, too,
did Mr. Hines, still hard, still pink, still impeccably tailored, and
still clinging to his elegant lacquered cane, as he supported little,
broken Mr. Munn, very pathetic and decorous in full black, even to the
The sonorous beauty and simplicity of the rite suddenly checked,
faltered. Bartholomew Storrs leaned over anxiously to the minister. The
poor, gentle, worn-out old brain was groping now in semi-darkness,
through which shot a cross-ray of memory. The tremulous voice took on
new confidence, but the marrow of my spine turned icy as I heard the
fatally misplaced and confused words that followed:
“If any man know—know just and good cause why this woman—why this
Bartholomew Storrs's gaunt hand shot upward, high in air, outspread
in the gesture of forbiddance. His deep voice rang, overbearing the
stumbling accents of the clergyman.
“A sign! A sign from on High! O God, thou hast spoken through thy
servant to forefend a sore offense. Listen, ye people. This woman—”
He stopped as there rose, on the opposite side of the open grave
another figure, with hands and voice lifted to heaven in what must
surely have been the most ingenuous supplication that ever ascended to
the throne of Pity and Understanding. All the passion which, through
the bitter hours, had been repressed in the self-commanding soul of the
hard and pink Mr. Hines, swelled and cried aloud in his plea:
“O God! have a heart!”
Bartholomew Storrs's hand fell. His eyes faltered. His lips
trembled. He stood once more, agonized with doubt. And in that moment
the old minister came to his rightful senses.
“Peace, my friends,” he commanded with authority. “Let no man
disturb the peace of the dead.”
And, unwaveringly, he went on to the end of the service.
So little Minnie Munn rests beside the mother who waited for her. No
ghosts have risen to protest her presence there. The man who loved her
comes back to Our Square from time to time, at which times there are
fresh flowers on Minnie's mound, below the headstone reading: “Beloved
Wife of Christopher Hines.” But the elegiac verse has never appeared. I
must record also the disappearance of that tiny bronze cockleshell,
outward bound for “Far Ports,” from the Bonnie Lassie's window, though
Mr. Hines was wrong in his theory that it could be bought—like all
else —“at a price.” By the way, I believe that he has modified that
As for Bartholomew Storrs, he is prone to take the other side of the
Square when he sees me on my accustomed bench. In repose his face is as
grim as ever, but I have seen him smile at a child. Probably the weight
of our collective sins upon his conscience is less irksome, now that he
has a crime of his own to balance them. For forgery and falsification
of an official record is a real crime, which might send him to jail.
But even that grim and judicial God of his worship ought to welcome him
into heaven on the strength of it.
I believe that Bartholomew sleeps o' nights now.
FOR MAYME, READ MARY
Mayme Mccartney was a bad little good girl. She inspired (I trust)
esteem for her goodness. But it was for her hardy and happy impudence,
her bent for ingenious mischief, her broad and catholic disrespect for
law, conventions, proprieties and persons, and the glint of the devil
in her black eyes that we really loved her. Such is the perversity of
human nature in Our Square. I am told that it is much the same
She first came into public notice by giving (unsolicited) a most
scandalous and spirited imitation of old Madame Tallafferr, aforetime
of the Southern aristocracy, in the act of rebuking her landlord, the
insecticidal Boggs (“Boggs Kills Bugs” in his patent of nobility), for
eating peanuts on his own front steps. She then (earnestly solicited by
a growing audience) put on impromptu sketches of the Little Red Doctor
diagnosing internal complications in a doodle-bug; of MacLachan (drunk)
singing “The Cork Leg” and MacLachan (sober) repenting thereof; of
Bartholomew Storrs offering samples of his mortuary poesy to a bereaved
second-cousin; and, having decked out her chin in cotton-batten
whiskers (limb of Satan!), of myself proffering sage counsel and pious
admonitions to Our Square at large. Having concluded, she sat down on a
bench and coughed. And the Little Red Doctor, who, from the shelter of
a shrub had observed her presentation of his little idiosyncrasies,
drew nearer and looked at her hard. For he disliked the sound of that
cough. He suspected that his old friend and opponent, Death, with whom
he fought an interminable campaign, was mocking him from ambush. It
wasn't quite fair play, either, for the foe to use the particular
weapon indicated by the cough on a mere child. With her lustrous hair
loose and floating, and her small, eager, flushed face, she looked far
short of the mature and self-reliant seventeen which was the tally of
her experienced years.
“Hello,” greeted the Little Red Doctor, speaking with the brusque
informality of one assured of his place as a local celebrity. “I don't
know you, do I?”
Mayme lifted her eyes. “If you don't,” she drawled, “it ain't for
lack of tryin'. Is your hat glued on?”
“Good Lord!” exclaimed the Little Red Doctor indignantly. “Do you
think I'm trying to flirt with you? Why, you're only a kid.”
“Get up to date,” advised Mayme. “I'm old enough to be your steady.
Only, I'm too lucky.”
“That's a bad cough you've got,” said the Little Red Doctor hastily.
“I've got a better one at home. Like to hear it some day?”
“Bring it over to my office and let's look at the thing,” suggested
the Little Red Doctor, smiling.
As Mayme McCartney observed that smile with the shrewd judgment of
men which comes early, in self-protection, to girls of her environment,
the suspicion and impudence died out of her face, which became wistful.
“D'you think it means anything?” she asked.
“Any cough means something. I couldn't tell without examination.”
“How much?” inquired the cautious Mayme.
The Little Red Doctor is a willing liar in a good cause. “No charge
for first consultation. Come over to my office.”
When the test was finished, the Little Red Doctor looked
professionally non-committal. “Live with your parents?” he asked.
“No. With my aunt. 'Round in the Avenue.”
“Where do you work?”
“The Emporium,” answered the girl, naming the great and still
fashionable downtown department store, half a mile to the westward.
“You ought to quit. As soon as possible.”
“And spoil my delicate digestion?”
“Who said anything about your digestion?”
“I did. If I quit workin', I quit eatin'. And that's bad for me. I
tried it once.”
“I see,” said the Little Red Doctor, recognizing a condition by no
means unprecedented in local practice. “Couldn't you get a job in some
“Where, for instance?”
“Well, if you knew any one in California.”
“How's the walkin'?” asked Mayme.
“It's long,” replied the Little Red Doctor, “seeing” again. “Anyway,
you've got to have fresh air.”
“They serve it fresh, every morning, right here in Our Square,”
Mayme pointed out.
“Good idea. Get up early and fill your lungs full of it for an hour
every day.” He gave some further instructions.
Mayme produced a dollar, and delicately placed it on the mantel.
“Take it away,” said the Little Red Doctor. “Didn't I tell you—”
“Go-wan!” said Mayme. “Whadda you think you are; Bellevue Hospital?
I pay as I go, Doc.”
The Little Red Doctor frowned austerely.
“What's the matter? Face hurt you?” asked the solicitous Mayme.
“People don't call me 'Doc,'“ began the offended practitioner in
“Oh, that's because they ain't on to you,” she assured him. “I
wouldn't call you 'Doc' myself if I didn't know you was a good sport
back of your bluff.”
The Little Red Doctor grinned, looking first at Mayme and then at
the dollar. “You aren't such a bad sport yourself,” he admitted. “Well,
we'll call this a deal. But if I see you in the Square and give you a
tip about yourself now and again, that doesn't count. That's on the
She considered it gravely. “All right,” she agreed at length.
“Between pals, yes? Shake, Doc.”
So began the quaint friendship between our hard-worked, bluff,
knightly-hearted practitioner, and the impish and lovable little
store-girl. Also another of the innumerable tilts between him and his
old friend, Death.
“He's got the jump on me, Dominie,” complained the Little Red Doctor
to me. “But, at that, we're going to give him a fight. She's clear
grit, that youngster is. She's got a philosophy of life, too. I don't
know where she got it, or just what it is, but it's there. Oh, she's
worth saving, Dominie.”
“If I hadn't reason to think you safeguarded, my young friend,” said
I, “I'd give you solemn warning.”
“Why, she's an infant!” returned the Little Red Doctor scornfully.
“A poor, little, monkey-faced child. Besides—” He stopped and sighed.
“Yes; I know,” I assented. There was at that time a “Besides” in the
Little Red Doctor's sorrowful heart which bulked too large to admit of
any rivalry. “Nevertheless,” I added, “you needn't be so scornful about
the simian type in woman. It's a concentrated peril to mankind. I've
seen trouble caused in this world by kitten faces, by pure, classic
faces, by ox-eyed-Juno faces, by vivid blond faces, by dreamy, poetic
faces, by passionate Southern faces, but for real power of catastrophe,
for earthquake and eclipse, for red ruin and the breaking up of laws,
commend me to the humanized, feminized monkey face. I'll wager that
when Antony first set eyes on Cleopatra, he said, 'And which cocoa palm
did she fall out of?' Phryne was of the beautified baboon cast of
features, and as for Helen of Troy, the best authorities now lean to
the belief that the face that launched a thousand ships and fired the
topless towers of Ilium was a reversion to the arboreal. I tell you,
man that is born of woman cannot resist it. Give little Mayme three
“I wish to God I could,” said the Little Red Doctor.
“Can't you?” I asked, startled. “Is it as bad as that?”
“It isn't much better. How's your insomnia, Dominie?”
“Insomnia,” said I, “is a scientific quibble for unlaid memories. I
take mine out for the early morning air at times, if that's what you
“It is. Keep an eye on the kid, and do what you can to prevent that
busy little mind of hers from brooding.”
In that way Mayme McCartney and I became early morning friends. She
adopted for her special own a bench some rods from mine under the lilac
near the fountain. After her walk, taken with her thin shoulders flung
back and the chest filling with deep, slow breaths, she would pay me a
call or await one from me and we would exchange theories and opinions
and argue about this and other worlds. Seventy against seventeen. Fair
exchange, for, if mine were the riper creed, hers was the more vivid
and adventurous. Who shall say which was the sounder?
On the morning of the astonishing Trespass, I was late, being
discouraged by a light rain. As she approached her bench, she found it
occupied by an individual who appeared to be playing a contributory
part in the general lamentation of nature. The interloper was young and
quite exquisite of raiment, which alone would have marked him for an
outlander. His elbows were propped on his knees, his fists supported
his cheekbones, his whole figure was in a slump of misery. Scrutinizing
him with surprise, Mayme was shocked to see a glistening drop, detached
from his drooping countenance, fall to the pavement, followed by
another. At the same time she heard an unmistakable and melancholic
The benches in Our Square have seen more life than most. They have
cradled weariness of body and spirit; they have assuaged grief and
given refuge to shaking terror, and been visited by Death. They have
shivered to the passion of cursing men and weeping women. But never
before had any of their ilk heard grown young manhood blubber. Neither
had Mayme McCartney. It inspired her with mingled emotions, the most
immediate of which was a desire to laugh.
Accordingly she laughed. The intruder lifted a woeful face, gave her
one vague look, and reverted to his former posture. Mayme stopped
laughing. She advanced and put a friendly hand on one of the humped
“Cheer up, Buddy,” she said. “It ain't as bad as you think it is.”
“It's worse,” gulped a choky voice. Then the head lifted again. “Who
are you?” it demanded.
“I'm your big sister,” said Mayme reassuringly. “Tell a feller about
The response was neither polite nor explanatory. “D—-n sisters!”
said the bencher.
“Oh, tutt-tutt and naughty-naughty!” rebuked Mayme.
“Somebody's sister been puttin' somethin' over on poor little Willy?”
“My own sister has.” He was in that state of semi-hysterical
exhaustion in which revelation of one's intimate troubles to the first
comer seems natural. “She's gone and got arrested,” he wailed.
Mayme's face became grave and practical.
“That's different,” said she. “What's her lay?”
“Lay? I don't know—”
“What's her line? What's she done to get pinched?”
“Shoplifting. At the special night sale of the Emporium.”
“You're tellin' me! In the silks, huh?”
“What do you know about it? My God! Is it in the papers already?”
“Keep your hair on, Buddy. I work there, and I heard about that
pinch. Swell young married lady. Say,” she added, after a thoughtful
pause: “has she got somethin' comin'?”
“Something coming? How? What?”
“Don't be dumb. A kid.”
He stared. She was looking at him with unabashed frankness. Those
who live in the close, rough intimacy of the slums do not cherish false
shame about the major facts of life.
“Suppose she has?” queried the youth sulkily.
“Why, that'll be all right, you poor boob,” returned the kindly
Mayme. “The judge'll let her off with a warning.”
“How do you know?”
“They always do. Those cases are common. Dolan ought to be canned
for makin' a pinch of a lady in the fam'ly way.”
“What if they do let her off?” lamented the youth. “It'll be in all
the papers and I'll be ruined. My life's spoiled. I might as well leave
“Ah, don't do a mean trick like that to the old town!” besought the
sardonic Mayme. “Where do you come in to get hurt?”
He burst into the hectic grievances of the pampered and spoiled
child. His family was just getting a foothold in Society (with an
almost holy emphasis on the word) and now they were disgraced. All was
up. Their new, precariously held acquaintances would drop them. In his
petulant grief he did an amazing thing; he produced a bunch of
clippings from the local society columns, setting forth, in the printed
company of the Shining Ones, the doings (mostly charitable) of Mrs.
Samuel Berthelin, her daughter, Mrs. Harris, and her son, David,
referred to glowingly as “the scion of the wealth and position of the
late lamented financier.”
Mayme was impressed. Like most shop-girls she was a fervent reader
of society news. (If shop-girls did not read this fine flower of
American democracy, nobody would, except those who wait eagerly and
anxiously for their names to appear.) She perceived—not knowing that
the advertising leverage of the Berthelin Loan Agency had forced those
insecure portals of print for the entry of Mrs. Berthelin and her
progeny—that she was in the presence of the Great. Capacity for awe
was not in Mayme's independent soul. But she was interested and
sympathetic. Here was a career worth saving!
“Let's go over to the station-house,” said she. “I know some of the
To the white building with the green lanterns they went. The
shoplifting case, it appeared, had already been bailed out.
Furthermore, everything would be all right and there was little fear of
publicity; the store itself would see to that. Vastly relieved and
refreshed in spirit, David Berthelin began to take stock of his
companion with growing interest. She was decidedly not pretty. Just as
decidedly she was quaint and piquant and quite new to his jejune but
also somewhat bored experience. From the opening passage of their first
conversation he deduced, lacking the insight to discriminate between
honest frankness and immodesty, that she was a “fly kid.” On that
theory he invited her to breakfast with him. Mayme accepted. They went
to Thomson's Elite Restaurant, on the corner, where David roused
mingled awe and misgivings in the breast of Polyglot Elsa, the cashier,
by ordering champagne, and Mayme reassured her by declining it.
Thus began an acquaintanceship which swiftly ripened into a queer
sort of intimacy, more than a little disturbing to us of Our Square who
were interested in Mayme. Young Berthelin's over-ornate roadster
lingered in our quiet precincts more often than appeared to us suitable
or safe, and black-eyed Mayme, looking demure and a little exalted, was
whirled away to unknown worlds, always returning, however, at
respectable hours. When the Little Red Doctor remonstrated with her
ostensibly on the score of her health, she reminded him in one breath
that he hadn't been invited to censor her behavior which was entirely
her own affair, and in the next—with his hand caught between hers and
her voice low and caressing—declared that he was the best little old
Doc in the world and there was nothing to worry about, either as to
health or conduct. Indeed, her condition seemed to be improving. I dare
say young Mr. Berthelin's expensive food was one of the things she
needed. Furthermore, she ceased to be the raggle-taggle, hoydenishly
clad Mayme of the cash department, and, having been promoted to
saleswoman, quite went in for dress. On this point she sought the
advice of the Bonnie Lassie. The result went far to justify my prophecy
that Mayme's queer little face might yet make its share of trouble in
an impressionable world. But the Bonnie Lassie shook her bonnie head
privately and said that the fine-feathers development was a bad sign,
and that if young Berthelin would obligingly run his seventeen-jeweled
roadster off the Williamsburgh Bridge, with himself in it, much trouble
might be saved for all concerned.
If little Mayme were headed for trouble, she went to meet it with a
smiling face. Never had she seemed so joyous, so filled with the desire
of life. This much was to be counted on the credit side, the Little Red
Doctor said. On the debit side—well, to me was deputed the unwelcome
task of conveying the solemn, and, as it were, official protest and
warning of Our Square. Of course I did it at the worst possible moment.
It was early one morning, when Mayme, on her bench, was looking a
little hollow-eyed and disillusioned. I essayed the light and jocular
approach to the subject:
“Well, Mayme; how is the ardent swain?”
She turned to me with the old flash in her big, shadowed eyes: “Did
you say swain or swine, Dominie?”
“Ah!” said I. “Has he changed his role?”
“He's given himself away, if that's what you mean.”
“I thought that would come.”
“He—he wanted me to take a trip to Boston with him.”
I considered this bit of information, which was not as surprising or
unexpected as Mayme appeared to deem it. “Have you told the Little Red
“Doc'd kill him,” said Mayme simply.
“What better reason for telling?”
“Oh, the poor kid: he don't know any better.”
“Doesn't he? In any case I trust that you know better, after this,
than to have anything more to do with him.”
“Yep. I've cut him out,” replied Mayme listlessly. “I figured you
and Doc were right, Dominie. It's no good, his kind of game. Not for
girls like me.” She looked up at me with limpid eyes, in which there
was courage and determination and suffering.
“My dear,” I murmured, “I hope it isn't going to be too hard.”
“He's so pretty,” said Mayme McCartney wistfully.
So he was, now that I came to think of it. With his clear, dark
color, his wavy hair, his languishing brown eyes, his almost girlishly
graceful figure, and his beautiful clothes, he was pretty enough to
fascinate any inexperienced imagination. But I cannot say that he
looked pretty when, a few days later, he invaded Our Square in search
of a Mayme who had vanished beyond his ken (she had kept her tenement
domicile a secret from him), and, addressing me as “you white-whiskered
old goat,” accused me of having come between him and the girl upon whom
he had deigned to bestow his lordly favor. Unfortunately for him, the
Little Red Doctor chanced along just then and inquired, none too
deferentially, what the Scion of Wealth and Position was doing in that
“What business is it of yours, Red-Head?” countered the offended
He then listened with distaste, but perforce (for what else could he
do in the grasp of a man of twice his power?), to a brilliant and
convincing summary of his character, terminating in a withering sketch
of his personal and sartorial appearance.
“I didn't mean the kid any harm,” argued the Scion suavely. “I—I
came back to apologize.”
“Let me catch you snooping around here again and I'll break every
bone in your body,” the Little Red Doctor answered him.
“I guess this Square's free to everybody. I guess you don't own it,”
said the youth, retreating to his car.
Notwithstanding the unimpeachable exactitude of this surmise, he was
seen no more in that locality. Judge, then, of our dismay, locally, at
learning, not a fortnight later, from a fellow employee of Mayme's,
that she had been met at closing time by a swell young guy in a
cherry-colored rattler, who took her away to dine with him. Catechized
upon the point, later on, by a self-appointed committee of two
consisting of the Little Red Doctor and myself, Mayme said vaguely that
it was all right; we didn't understand. This is, I believe, the usual
formula. The last half of it at least, was true.
About that time we, in common with the rest of the Nation, took that
upon our minds which was even more important than Mayme McCartney's
love affair. War loomed imminently before us. It was only a question of
the fitting time to strike; and Our Square was feverishly reckoning up
its military capacity. The great day of the declaration came. The
Nation had drawn the sword. In the week following, Our Square was
She descended upon us from the somber sumptuousness of a gigantic
limousine, the majestic, the imposing, the formidable, the
authoritative Mrs. S. Berthelin. We knew at once who she was, because
she led, by the ear, as it were, her hopeful progeny, young David. I do
not mean that she had an actual auricular grip on him, but the effect
upon his woe-begone and brow-beaten person was the same. He suggested
vividly a spoiled and pretty lapdog being sternly conveyed to a
detested bath. She suggested a vivified bouquet of artificial flowers.
We hastily rallied our forces to meet her; the Little Red Doctor, the
Bonnie Lassie, and myself. Mrs. Berthelin opened her exordium in a tone
of high philippic, not even awaiting the formalities of introduction.
But when I insisted upon these, and she learned that the Bonnie Lassie
was Mrs. Cyrus Staten, she cringed. Despite a desire to keep out of the
society columns quite as genuine as that of Mrs. Berthelin's to get in,
the Cyrus Statens frequently figure among the Shining Ones, a fact
almost painfully appreciated by our visitor. After that it was easy to
get her into the Bonnie Lassie's house, where her eloquence could not
draw a crowd. To get young David there was not quite so easy. He made
one well-timed and almost successful effort to bolt, and even evinced
signs of balking on the steps.
His punishment was awaiting him. No sooner were we all settled in
the Bonnie Lassie's studio than the mother proceeded to regale us with
a history and forecast of his career, beginning with his precocious
infant lispings and terminating with his projected, though wholly
indefinite, marriage into the Highest Social Circles. To do David
justice, he squirmed.
“Have you got him a job as a general in the army yet, ma'am?”
inquired the Little Red Doctor suavely.
It was quite lost upon Mrs. Berthelin. She informed us that a
commission as Captain in the Quartermaster's Department was arranged
for, and she expected to have the young officer assigned to New York so
that he could live at home in the comfort and luxury suitable to his
wealth and condition. And what she wanted us to understand clearly was
that no designing little gutter-snipe was to be allowed to compromise
David's future. She concluded with an imaginative and most unflattering
estimate of Mayme McCartney's character, manners, and morals, in the
midst of which I heard a gasp.
It came from Mayme, standing, wide-eyed and white, in the doorway.
The front door had been left ajar, and, seeing the Berthelins'
monogrammed car outside, she had come in. The oratress turned and
“That's a lie,” said Mayme McCartney steadily. “I'm as straight a
girl as your own daughter. Ask him.”
She pointed to the stricken David. Pointing may not be ladylike, but
it can be extremely effective. David's head dropped into his hands.
“Oh, Ma!” he groaned.
“Don't call me 'Ma,'“ snapped the goaded Mrs. Berthelin. “And this
is the girl?” She looked Mayme up and down. Mayme did the same by her
and did it better.
“I could give you a lorny-yette and beat you at the frozen-stare
trick,” said the irrepressible Mayme at the conclusion of the duel
which ended in her favor.
The Little Red Doctor gurgled. I saw the Bonnie Lassie's eyelids
quiver, but her face was cold and impassive as she turned to the
“Mrs. Berthelin,” said she, “you have made some very damaging
statements, before witnesses, about Miss McCartney's character. What
proof have you?”
“Why, he wants to marry her!” almost yelled the mother.
“She's trapped him.”
“That's another lie,” said Mayme.
“He told me himself that he was going to marry you.”
“Did he? Then he's wrong. I wouldn't marry him with a brass ring,”
“You wouldn't mar—You wouldn't what?” demanded the mother,
outraged and incredulous.
“You heard me. He knows it, too. I don't like the family—what I've
seen of them,” observed Mayme judicially. “Besides, he's yellow.”
David's shamed face emerged into view. “I'm not,” he gulped.
“She—she made me.”
“Captain!” said Mayme with a searing scorn in her voice.
“Quartermaster's Department! Safety first! When half the little
fifteen-per tape-snippers in the Emporium are breakin' their
fourteen-inch necks volunteerin' early and often to get where the
David Berthelin stood on his feet, and his pretty face wore an ugly
“Let me out of here,” he growled.
“David!” said his mother. “Where are you going?”
“Davey!” It was a shriek. “You shan't.”
“I won't let you.”
“You can go to—”
“Buddy!” Mayme's voice, magically softened, broke in. “Cut out the
rough stuff. You better go home and think it over. Bein' a private is
no pink-silk picnic.”
“I'd rather see a son of mine dead than a common soldier!” cried
The Bonnie Lassie, very white, rose. “You must leave this house,”
she said. “At once. Think yourself fortunate that I cannot bring myself
to betray a guest. Otherwise I should report you to the authorities.”
Young David addressed Mayme in the words and tone of a misunderstood
and aggrieved pet. “You think I'm no good. I'll show you, Mayme. Wait
till I come back—if I ever do come back—and you'll be sorry.”
“Hero stuff,” commented the Little Red Doctor. “It'll all have oozed
out of his fingertips this time to-morrow.”
“Will you show me a place to enlist?” challenged the boy. “And,” he
added with a malicious grin, “will you enlist with me?”
“Sure!” said the Little Red Doctor. “I'll show you. But they won't
take me.” He bestowed a bitter glance on his twisted foot. “Come
They went off together, while Mrs. Berthelin scandalized Our Square
by an exhibition of hysterics involving language not at all in accord
with the rich respectability of her apparel and her limousine.
We waited at the Bonnie Lassie's for the Little Red Doctor's return.
He came back alone. I thought that I detected a pathetic little gleam
of disappointment in Mayme's deep eyes.
“He's done it,” said the Little Red Doctor. And I was sorry for him,
so much was there of tragic envy in his face.
“Did you give him your blessing?” I asked.
“I did. He shook hands like a man. There's maybe something in that
boy, if it weren't for the old hell-cat of a mother. However, she won't
have much chance. He's off to-morrow.”
“Will he write?” said Mayme in a curious, strained voice.
“He will. He'll report to me from time to time.”
“Didn't he—wasn't there any message?”
“Just good-bye and good luck,” answered the Little Red Doctor,
The Bonnie Lassie went over and put her arms around Mayme McCartney.
“My dear,” she said softly. “It wouldn't do. It really wouldn't. He
isn't worth it. You're going to forget him.”
“All right.” Suddenly Mayme looked like a very helpless and
sorrowful little girl. “Only, it—it isn't goin' to be as easy as you
think. He was so pretty,” said Mayme McCartney wistfully.
Summer was smiting Our Square with white-hot bolts of sun-fire, from
which one could scarcely find refuge beneath the scraggly shelter of
parched shrubbery, when one morning the Bonnie Lassie approached my
bench with a fell and purposeful smile.
“Dominie, you're a dear old thing,” she began in her most
“I won't do it,” I said determinedly, foreboding something serious.
The Bonnie Lassie raised her eyebrows at me, affecting aggrieved
innocence. “Won't do what?” she inquired.
“Whatever it is that you're trying to wheedle me into.”
The eyebrows resumed their normal arch, and a dimple flickered in
the corner of the soft lips. By this I knew that the case was hopeless.
“Oh, but you've already done it,” she said.
“Help! Tell me the worst and get it over with.”
“It must be lovely to be rich,” said the Bonnie Lassie meditatively.
“And so generous!”
“How much is it? What do you want it for? I haven't got that much,”
I hastily remarked.
“And to keep it an absolute secret from everybody. Even from Mayme
“Go on. Don't mind me,” I murmured.
“The Little Red Doctor has found the place. It's in New Mexico. And
in the fall she's going on to the Coast. He's almost willing to
guarantee that a year of it will make her as strong as ever. And the
hundred dollars a month you allow her besides her traveling expenses
will be plenty. You are a good old thing, Dominie!”
“What you mean is that I'm an old good-thing. How shall I look,” I
demanded bitterly, “when Mayme comes to thank me?”
“No foolisher than you do now, trying to raise unreasonable
objections to our perfectly good plans,” retorted the Bonnie Lassie.
“Besides, she won't. She knows that your way is to do good by stealth
and blush to find it fame, and she's under pledge to pretend to know
nothing about it.”
“Where did the Little Red Doctor raise it?” I queried.
“There are times, Dominie, when your mind has real penetrative
power. Think it over.”
“The Weeping Scion of Wealth and Position!” I cried. “Did our
medical friend blackmail him?”
“Not necessarily. He only dropped a hint that Mayme's chance here
was rather poorer than a soldier's going to war, unless something could
be done and the Weeping Scion fairly begged to be allowed to do it. 'Do
you think she'd take it from you?' said the Little Red Doctor, 'after
what your mother called her?' 'Don't let her know,' says our ornamental
young weeper. 'Tell her somebody else is doing it. Tell her it's from
that white-whiskered old—from the elderly and handsome gentleman with
the benevolent expres—'“
“Yes: I know,” I broke in. “Very good. I'm the goat. Lying,
hypocrisy, false pretense, fake charity; it's all one to a sin-seared
old reprobate like me. After it's over I'll go around the corner and
steal what pennies I can find in Blind Simon's cup, just to make me
feel comparatively respectable and decent again.”
It was no easier than I expected it to be, especially when little
Mayme, having come to say good-bye, put her lips close to my ear and
tried to whisper something, and cried and kissed me instead.
Our Square was a dimmer and duller place after she left. But her
letters helped. They were so exactly like herself! Even at the first,
when things seemed to be going ill with her, they were all courage, and
quaint humor and determination to get well and come back to Our Square,
which was the dearest and best place in the world with the dearest and
best people in it. Homesickness! Poor little, lonely Mayme. She was
reading—she wrote the Bonnie Lassie—all the books that the Dominie
had listed for her, and she was being tutored by a school-teacher with
blue goggles and a weak heart who lived at the same resort. “Why grow
up a Boob,” wrote the philosophic Mayme, “when the lil old world is
full of wise guys just aking to spill their wiseness?”
Contemporaneously the Weeping Scion of Wealth was writing back his
views on life and the emptiness thereof, in better orthography, but
with distinctly less of spirit.
“It appears,” reported the Little Red Doctor, “that every man in his
own company has licked our young friend and now the other companies of
the regiment are beginning to show interest, and he doesn't like it. I
believe he'd desert if it weren't that he's afraid of what Mayme would
“Still on his mind, is she?” I asked.
The Little Red Doctor produced a letter with a camp postmark from
the South and read a passage:
“You were right when you guessed that I never wanted anything very
much before, without having it handed to me. Perhaps you are right
about its being good for me. But it comes hard. The promise goes, of
course. I'm going to show you and her that I'm not yellow. [So that was
still rankling; salutary, if bitter dose!] But if this war ever
finishes, all bets are off and I'm coming back to find her. And don't
you forget your part of the bargain, to write and let me know how she
is getting on.” The Little Red Doctor was able to send progressively
encouraging news. When the cold weather came, Mayme moved westward to
Southern California, and found herself on the edge of one of the
strange, tumultuous, semi-insane moving-picture colonies of that
region. Thence issued, presently, stirring tidings.
“What do you think?” wrote our exile. “They've got my funny little
monkey mug in the movies. Five per and steady work. The director likes
me and says he will give me a real chance one of these days. But, as
the Dominie would say, this is a hell of a place. [Graceless imp!] I
would not say it myself, because I am a perfect lady. You have to be,
out here. That reminds me: I have cut out the Mayme. Every fresh little
frizzle in the colony with a false front and a pneumatic figure calls
herself Mayme or Daisye or Tootsye. Not for me! I am keeping up my
lessons and trying to make my head good for something besides carrying
a switch. Tell the Little Red Doctor that it is so long since I coughed
I have forgotten how. And I love you all so hard that it hurts.
“P.S. I am going to be Marie Courtenay when I get my name up in the
pictures. Put that in the Directory and see how it looks.
“P.S.2. How is my soldier boy getting along? Poor kid! I expect he
is finding it a lot different from Broadway with money in your pocket.”
About this time the Weeping Scion was finding things very different,
indeed, from Broadway, having been shifted to a specially wet and muddy
section of France; and was taking them as he found them. That is to
say, he had learned the prime lesson of war.
“And he's been made corporal,” announced the Little Red Doctor with
“That sounds encouraging,” remarked the Bonnie Lassie. “How did it
“He went over on one of the 'flu ships,' and when the epidemic began
to mow 'em down there was a kind of panic. From what I can make out,
the Scion kept his head and his nerve, and made good. A corporal's
stripes aren't much, but they're something.”
Better was to come. There was high triumph in the Little Red
Doctor's expression when he came to my bench with the glad tidings of
young David's promotion to a sergeantcy.
“While it's very gratifying,” I remarked, “it doesn't seem to me an
“Doesn't it!” retorted my friend. “That's because of your abysmal
military ignorance, Dominie. Let me tell you how it is in our army. A
fellow can get himself made a captain by pull, or a major by luck, or a
colonel by desk-work, or a general by having a fine martial figure, but
to get yourself made a sergeant, by Gosh, you've got to show the
stuff. You've got to be a man. You've got to have—”
“Are you going to tell her?” interrupted the Bonnie Lassie who had
been sent for to share the news.
The Little Red Doctor fell suddenly grave. “She's another matter,”
he said. “I don't think I shall.”
Matters were going forward with Mayme—beg her pardon, Mary
“Better and more of it,” she wrote the Bonnie Lassie. “They rang me
in on one of their local Red Cross shows to do a monologue. Was I a
hit? Say, I got more flowers than a hearse! You've got to remember,
though, that they deliver flowers by the car-load out here. And the
local stock company has made me an offer. Ingenue parts. There is not
the money that I might get in the pictures, but the chance is better.
So Marie Courtenay moves on to the legit.—I mean the spoken drama.
Look out for me on Broadway later!”
In the correspondence from Sergeant Berthelin there came a long
hiatus followed by a curt bit of official information: “Seriously
wounded.” The Little Red Doctor brought the news to me, with a queer
expression on his face.
“It doesn't look good, Dominie,” he said. “You know, my old friend,
Death, is a shrewd picker. He's got an eye for men.” He mused, rubbing
his tousled, brickish locks with a nervous hand. “I was getting to kind
of like that young pup,” he muttered moodily.
The saying that no news is good news was surely concocted by some
one who never chafed through day after lengthening day for that which
does not come. But in the end it did come, in the form of a scrawl from
the Weeping Scion himself. He was mending, but very slowly, and they
said it would be a long time—months, perhaps—before he could get back
to the front. Meantime, they were still picking odds and ends, chiefly
metallic, out of various parts of his system.
“I'm one of the guys you read about that came over here to collect
souvenirs,” he commented. “Well, I've got all I need of 'em. They can
have the rest. All I want now is to get back and present a few to
Fritzie before the show is over.”
Thereafter the Little Red Doctor exhibited, but read to us only in
small parts, quite bulky communications from overseas. Some of them, it
became known, he was forwarding to our little Mary, out in the Far
West. With her answer came the solution.
“Some of the 'Grass and Asphalt' sketches are wonders; some not so
good. I am going to try out 'Doggy' if I can find a poodle with enough
intelligence to support me. But you need not have been so mysterious,
Doc, about your 'young amateur writer who seems to have some talent.'
Did you think I would not know it was David? Why, bless your dear,
silly heart, I told him some of those stories myself. But how does he
get a chance to write them? Is he back on this side? Or is he
invalided? Or what? Tell me. I want to know about him. You do not have
to worry about my—well, my infatuation for him, any more. He was a
pretty boy, though, wasn't he? But I have seen too many of that kind in
the picture game. I'm spoiled for them. How I would love to smear some
of their pretty, smirky faces! They give me a queer feeling in my
breakfast. Excuse me: I forgot I was a lady. But don't say 'pretty' to
me any more. I'm through. At that, you were all wrong about Buddy. He
was a lot decenter than you thought: only he was brought up wrong. Give
him my love as one pal to another. I hope he don't come back a He-ro.
I'm offen he-roes, too. Excuse again!”
Wars and exiles alike come to an end in time. And in time our two
wanderers returned, but Mary first, David having been sent into Germany
with the Army of Occupation. Modest announcements in the theatrical
columns informed an indifferent theater-going world that Miss Marie
Courtenay, an actress new to Broadway, was to play the ingenue part in
the latest comedy by a highly popular dramatist. Immediately upon the
production, the theater-going world ceased to be indifferent to the new
actress; in fact, it went into one of its occasional furores about her.
Not that she was in any way a great genius, but she had a certain
indefinable and winningly individual quality. The critics discussed it
gravely and at length, differing argumentatively as to its nature and
constitution. I could have given them a hint. My predictions regarding
the ancestral potencies of the monkey-face were being abundantly
No announcements, even of the most modest description, heralded the
arrival of Sergeant Major (if you please!) David Berthelin upon his
native shores. He came at once to Our Square and tackled the Little Red
“Where is she?” he asked.
The Little Red Doctor assumed an air of incredulous surprise. “Have
you still got that bee in your bonnet?” said he.
“Where is she?” repeated the Weeping Scion.
Maneuvering for time and counsel, the Little Red Doctor took him to
see the Bonnie Lassie and they sent for me. We beheld a new and
reconstituted David. He was no longer pretty. The soft brown eyes were
less soft and more alert, and there were little wrinkles at their
corners. He had broadened a foot or so. That pinky-delicate complexion
by which he had, in earlier and easier days, set obvious store, was
brownish and looked hardened. The Cupid's-bow of his mouth had
straightened out. High on one cheekbone was a not unsightly scar. His
manner was unassertive, but eminently self-respecting, and me, whom
aforetime he had stigmatized as a “white-whiskered old goat,” he now
addressed as “Sir.”
“Perhaps you'll tell me where she is, sir,” said he
“Leave it to me,” said the Bonnie Lassie, who has an unquenchable
thirst for the dramatic in real life. “And keep next Sunday night
She arranged with Mary McCartney to give a reading on that evening,
at her studio, of David's “Doggy” from the “Grass and Asphalt” sketches
which he had written in hospital. It was a quaint, pathetic little
conceit, the bewildered philosophy of a waif of the streets, as
expressed to his waif of a dog. For the supporting part we borrowed
Willy Woolly from the House of Silvery Voices, and admirably he played
it, barking accurately and with true histrionic fervor in the right
places (besides promptly falling in love with the star at the first and
only rehearsal). After the try-out, Mary came over to my bench with a
check for a rather dazzling sum in her hand, and said that now was the
time to settle accounts, but she never could repay—and so forth and so
on; all put so sweetly and genuinely that I heartily wished I might
accept the thanks if not the check. Instead of which I blurted out the
“Oh, Dominie!” said the girl, with such reproach that my
heart sank within me. “Do you think that was fair? Don't you know that
I never could have taken the money?”
“Precisely. And we had to find a way to make you take it. We
couldn't have you dying on the premises,” I argued with a feeble
attempt at jocularity.
“But from him!” she said. “After what had happened—And his
mother. How could you let me do it!”
“I thought you would have gotten over that feeling by this time,” I
“Oh, there's none of the old feeling left,” she answered, so simply
that I knew she believed her own statement. “But to have lived on his
money—Where is he?” she asked abruptly.
I told her that also and about Sunday night; the whole thing. The
Bonnie Lassie would have slain me. But I couldn't help it. I was
feeling rather abject.
Sunday night came, and with it Miss Marie Courtenay, escorted by an
“ace” covered with decorations, whose name is a household word and who
was only too obviously her adoring slave. Already there had been hints
of their engagement. Had I been that ace, I should have felt no small
discomposure at the sight of the girl's face when she first saw the
changed and matured Weeping Scion of three years before. After the
first flash of recognition she had developed on that expressive face of
hers a look of wonder and almost pathetic questioning, and, I thought,
who knew and loved the child, already something deeper and sweeter.
Young David, after greeting the star of the evening, took a modest rear
seat as befitted his rank. But when the Bonnie Lassie announced
“Doggy,” it was his face that was the study.
Of that performance I shall say nothing. It is now famous and
familiar to thousands of theater-goers. But if ever mortal man spent
twenty minutes in fairyland, it was David, while Mary was playing the
work of his fancy. At the close, he disappeared. I suppose he did not
dare trust himself to join in the congratulations with which she was
overwhelmed. I found him, as I rather expected, on the bench where he
had sat when Mayme McCartney first found him. And when the crowd had
departed from the studio, I told the girl. Without even stopping to put
on her hat she went out to him.
He was sitting with his elbows on his knees and his fists supporting
his cheekbones. But this time he was not weeping. He was thinking. Just
as of old she put a hand on his humped shoulder. Startled, he looked
up, and jumped to his feet. She was holding something out to him.
“What's that?” he said.
“A check. For what I owe you.”
“Who told you? The Little Red Doctor promised—”
“He's kept his promise. The Dominie told me.”
“Oh! I suppose,” he said slowly, “I've got to take this. You
wouldn't—no, of course you wouldn't,” he sighed.
“I've tried to keep strict account,” she said.
David adopted a matter-of-fact tone. “I can't deny that it'll come
in handy, just now,” he remarked. “At the present price of clothing,
and with my personal exchequer in its depleted state—”
“Why,” she broke in, “has anything happened? Your mother—?”
“Cut off,” said David briefly.
“She's cut you off? On my account? Oh—”
“No. I've cut her off. Temporarily. She doesn't want me to work. I'm
working. On a newspaper.”
“That's good,” said the girl warmly. “Let's sit down.”
They sat down. Each, however, found it curiously hard to begin
again. Mary was aching to thank him, but had a dreadful fear that if
she tried to, she would cry. She didn't want to cry. She had a feeling
that crying would be a highly unstrategic procedure leading to possible
alarming developments. Why didn't David say something? Finally he did
make a beginning.
“No: not 'Mayme' any more.”
He flushed to his temples. “I beg your pardon, Miss Courtenay.”
“Nonsense!” she said softly. “Mary. I've discarded the 'Mayme' long
“Mary,” he repeated in a tone of musing content.
He caught his breath. “A few thousand of the best guys in the
world,” he said, “call a fellow that. And every time they said it, it
made my heart ache with longing to hear it in your voice.”
“You're a queer Buddy,” returned the girl, not quite steadily. “Did
you bring me home a German helmet for a souvenir?”
He shook his head. “I didn't bring home much of anything, except
some experience and the discovery of the fact that when I had to stand
on my own feet, I wasn't much.”
“You got your stripes, didn't you?” suggested the girl.
“That's all I did get,” he returned jealously. “I didn't get any
medal, or palms or decorations or crosses of war: I didn't get anything
except an occasional calling down and a few scratches. If I'd had the
luck to get into aviation or some of the fancy branches—” David
checked himself. “There I go,” he said in self-disgust. “Beefing
It was quite in the old, spoiled-child tone; an echo of
indestructible personality, the Weeping Scion of other days; and it
went straight to Mary's swelling, bewildered, groping heart. She began
to laugh and a sob tangled itself in the laughter, and she choked and
He turned toward her.
“Don't be dumb, Buddy,” she said, in the words of their unforgotten
first talk. “You've—you've got me—if you still want me.”
She put out a tremulous hand to him, and it slipped over his
shoulder and around his neck, and she was drawn close into his arms.
“The Little Red Doctor,” remarked David after an interlude, in the
shaken tone of one who has had undeserved miracles thrust upon him,
“said that to want something more than anything in the world and not
get it was good for my soul, besides serving me right.”
“The Little Red Doctor,” retorted Mary McCartney, with the reckless
ingratitude of a woman in love, “is a dear little red idiot. What does
he know about Us!“
Immediately upon hearing of my fell design MacLachan, the tailor,
paid a visit of protest to my bench.
“Is it true fact that I hear, Dominie?”
“What do you hear, MacLachan?”
“That ye're to make one of yer silly histories about Barbran?”
“Perfectly true,” said I, passing over the uncomplimentary
“'Tis a feckless waste of time.”
“'Twill encourage the pair, when a man of yer age and influence in
Our Square should be dissuadin' them.”
“Perhaps they need a friendly word.”
MacLachan frowned. “Ye're determined?”
“Then I'll give ye a title for yer romance.”
“That's very kind of you. Give it.”
“The Story of Two Young Fools. By an Old One,” said MacLachan
witheringly, and turned to depart.
“Wait a moment.”
I held him with my glittering eye. Also, in case that should be
inadequate, with the crook of my cane firmly fixed upon his ankle.
“I'll waste na time from the tailorin',” began the Scot
disdainfully, but paused as I pointed a loaded finger at his head.
“Well?” he said, showing a guilty inclination to flinch.
“Mac, was I an original accomplice in this affair?”
“Will ye purtend to deny—”
“Did I scheme and plot with Cyrus the Gaunt and young
MacLachan mumbled something about undue influence.
“Did I get arrested?”
“In a cellar?”
“With my nose painted green?”
MacLachan groaned. “There was others,” he pleaded.
“A man of your age and influence in Our Square,” I interrupted
sternly, “should have been dissuading them.”
“Arr ye designin' to put all that in yer sil—in yer interestin'
MacLachan dislodged my crook from his leg, gave me such a look as
mid-Victorian painters strove for in pictures of the Dying Stag, and
retired to his Home of Fashion.
* * * * *
That men of the sobriety and standing of Cyrus the Gaunt, MacLachan,
Leon Coventry, the Little Red Doctor, and Boggs (I do not count young
Phil Stacey, for he was insane at the time, and has been so, with
modifications and glorifications, ever since) should paint their noses
green and frequent dubious cellars, calls for explanation. The
explanation is Barbran.
Barbran came to us from the immeasurable distances; to wit,
Let me confess at once that we are a bit supercilious in our
attitude toward the sister Square far to our West, across the Alps of
Broadway. Our Square was an established center of the social
respectabilities when the foot of Fifth Avenue was still frequented by
the occasional cow whose wanderings are responsible for the street-plan
of Greenwich Village. Our Square remains true to the ancient and simple
traditions, whereas Washington Square has grown long hair, smeared its
fingers with paint and its lips with free verse, and gone into debt for
its inconsiderable laundry bills. Washington Square we suspect of
playing at life; Our Square has a sufficiently hard time living it. We
have little in common.
Nevertheless, it must be admitted that there are veritable humans,
not wholly submerged in the crowd of self-conscious mummers who crowd
the Occidental park-space, and it was at the house of one of these, a
woman architect with a golden dream of rebuilding Greenwich Village,
street by street, into something simple and beautiful and, in the
larger sense urban, that the Bonnie Lassie, whose artistic deviations
often take her far afield, met Barbran.
They went for coffee to a queer little burrow decorated with
improving sentiments from the immortal Lewis Carroll which, Barbran
told the Bonnie Lassie, was making its blue-smocked, bobbed-haired,
attractive and shrewd little proprietress quite rich. Barbran hinted
that she was thinking of improving on the Mole's Hole idea if she could
find a suitable location, not so much for the money, of course—her
tone implied a lordly indifference to such considerations—as for the
fun of the thing.
The Bonnie Lassie was amused but not impressed. What did impress her
about Barbran was a certain gay yet restful charm; the sort of
difficult thing that our indomitable sculptress loves to catch and fix
in her wonderful little bronzes. She set about catching Barbran.
Now the way of a snake with a bird is as nothing for fascination
compared to the way of the Bonnie Lassie with the doomed person whom
she has marked down as a subject. Barbran hesitated, capitulated, came
to the Bonnie Lassie's house, moused about Our Square in a rapt manner
and stayed. She rented a room from the Angel of Death (“Boggs Kills
Bugs” is the remainder of his sign, which is considered to lend tone
and local interest to his whole side of the Square), just over Madame
Tallafferr's apartments, and, in the course of time, stopped at my
bench and looked at me contemplatively. She was a small person with
shy, soft eyes.
“The Bonnie Lassie sent you,” said I.
“You've come here to live—Heaven only knows why—but we're glad to
see you. And you want to know about the people; so the Bonnie Lassie
said, 'Ask the Dominie; he landed here from the ark.' Didn't she?”
Barbran sat down and smiled at me.
“Having sought information,” I pursued, “on my own account, I learn
that you are the only daughter of a Western millionaire ranch-owner.
How does it feel to revel in millions?”
“Romantic,” said she.
“Of course you have designs upon us.”
“Humanitarian, artistic, or sociological?”
“Oh, nothing long and clever like that.”
“You grow more interesting. Having designs upon us, you doubtless
wish my advice.”
“No,” she answered softly: “I've done it already.”
“Rash and precipitate adventuress! What have you done already?”
“Started my designs. I've rented the basement of Number 26.”
“Are you a rag-picker in disguise?”
“I'm going to start a coffee cellar. I was thinking of calling it
'The Coffee Pot.' What do you think?”
“So you do wish my advice. I will give it to you. Do you see that
plumber's shop next to the corner saloon?” I pointed to the Avenue
whose ceaseless stream of humanity flows past Our Square without ever
sweeping us into its current. “That was once a tea-shop. It was started
by a dear little, prim little old maiden lady. The saloon was run by
Tough Bill Manigan. The little old lady had a dainty sign painted and
hung it up outside her place, 'The Teacup.' Tough Bill took a board and
painted a sign and hung it up outside his place; 'The Hiccup.'
The dear little, prim little old maiden lady took down her sign and
went away. Yet there are those who say that competition is the life of
“Is there a moral to your story, Mr. Dominie?”
“Take it or leave it,” said I amiably.
“I will not call my cellar 'The Coffee Pot' lest a worse thing
“You are a sensible young woman, Miss Barbara Ann Waterbury.”
“It is true that my parents named me that,” said she, “but my
friends call me 'Barbran' because I always used to call myself that
when I was little, and I want to be called Barbran here.”
“That's very friendly of you,” I observed.
She gave me a swift, suspicious look. “You think I'm a fool,” she
observed calmly. “But I'm not. I'm going to become a local institution.
A local institution can't be called Barbara Ann Waterbury, unless it's
a creche or a drinking-fountain or something like that, can it?”
“It cannot, Barbran.”
“Thank you, Mr. Dominie,” said Barbran gratefully. She then
proceeded to sketch out for me her plans for making her Coffee Cellar
and herself a Local Institution, which should lure hopeful seekers for
Bohemia from the far parts of Harlem and Jersey City, and even such
outer realms of darkness as New Haven and Cohoes.
“That's what I intend to do,” said Barbran, “as soon as I get my
Great Idea worked out.”
What the Great Idea was, I was to learn later and from other lips.
In fact, from the lips of young Phil Stacey, who appeared, rather
elaborately loitering out from behind the fountain, shortly after my
new friend had departed, a peculiar look upon his extremely plain and
friendly face. Young Mr. Stacey is notable, if for no other reason than
that he represents a flat artistic failure on the part of the Bonnie
Lassie, who has tried him in bronze, in plaster, and in clay with equal
lack of success. There is something untransferable in the boy's face;
perhaps its outshining character. I know that I never yet have said to
any woman who knew him, no matter what her age, condition, or
sentimental predilections, “Isn't he a homely cub!” that she didn't
reply indignantly: “He's sweet!” Now when women—wonderful women
like the Bonnie Lassie and stupid women like Mrs. Rosser, the twins'
aunt, and fastidious women like Madame Tallafferr—unite in terming a
smiling human freckle “sweet,” there is nothing more to be said.
Adonis may as well take a back seat and the Apollo Belvedere seek the
helpful resources of a beauty parlor. Said young Phil carelessly:
“Dominie, who's the newcomer?”
“That,” said I, “is Barbran.”
“Barbran,” he repeated with a rising inflection. “It sounds like a
“As she pronounces it, it sounds like a strain of music,” said I.
“What's the rest of her name?”
“I am not officially authorized to communicate that.”
“Are you officially authorized to present your friends to her?”
“On what do you base your claim to acquaintanceship, my boy?” I
“Oh, claim! Well, you see, a couple of days ago, she was on the
cross-town car; and I—well, I just happened to notice her, you know.
“Yet I am informed on good and sufficient authority that her
appearance is not such as to commend her, visually, if I may so express
myself, to the discriminating eye.”
“Who's the fool—” began Mr. Stacey hotly.
“Tut-tut, my young friend,” said I. “Certain ladies whom we both
esteem can and will prove, to the satisfaction of the fair-minded, that
none of the young person's features is exactly what it should be or
precisely where it ought to be. Nevertheless, the net result is
surprising and even gratifying.”
“She's a peach!” asseverated my companion.
“Substantially what I was remarking. As for your other hint, you
need no introduction to Barbran. Nobody does.”
“What?” Phil Stacey's plain face became ugly; a hostile light
glittered in his eyes. “What do you mean by that?” he growled.
“Simply that she's about to become a local institution. She's
plotting against the peace and security of Our Square, to the extent of
starting a coffee-house at Number 26.”
“No!” cried Phil joyously. “Good news!”
“As a fad. She's a budding millionairess from the West.”
“No!” growled Phil, his face falling.
“Bad news; eh? It occurred to me that she might want some
decorations, and that you might be the one to do them.” In his leisure
hours, my young friend, who is an expert accountant by trade (the term
“expert” appears to be rather an empty compliment, since his stipend is
only twenty-five dollars a week), perpetrates impressionistic
decorations and scenery for such minor theaters as will endure them.
“You're a grand old man, Dominie!” said he. “Let's go.”
We went. We found Barbran. We conversed. Half an hour later when I
left them—without any strenuous protests on the part of either—they
were deeply engrossed in a mutual discussion upon decorations,
religion, the high cost of living, free verse, two-cent transfers,
Charley Chaplin, aviation, ouija, and other equally safe topics. Did I
say safe? Dangerous is what I mean. For when a youth who is as homely
as young Phil Stacey and in that particular style of homeliness, and a
girl who is as far from homely as Barbran begin, at first sight, to
explore each other's opinions, they are venturing into a dim and
haunted region, lighted by will-o'-the-wisps and beset with perils and
pitfalls. Usually they smile as they go. Phil was smiling as I left
them. So was Barbran. I may have smiled myself.
Anything but a smile was on Phil Stacey's normally cheerful face
when, some three days thereafter, he came to my rooms.
“Dominie,” said he, “I want to tap your library. Have you got any of
the works of Harvey Wheelwright?”
“God forbid!” said I.
Phil looked surprised. “Is it as bad as that? I didn't suppose there
was anything wrong with the stuff.”
“Don't you imperil your decent young soul with it,” I advised
earnestly. “It reeks of poisonous piety. The world he paints is so full
of nauseating virtues that any self-respecting man would rather live in
hell. His characters all talk like a Sunday-school picnic out of the
Rollo books. No such people ever lived or ever could live, because a
righteously enraged populace would have killed 'em in early childhood.
He's the smuggest fraud and best seller in the United States.
Wheelwright? The crudest, shrewdest, most preposterous panderer to
“Whew! Help! I didn't know what I was starting,” protested my
visitor. “As a literary critic you're some Big Bertha, Dominie. I begin
to suspect that you don't care an awful lot about Mr. Wheelwright's
style of composition. Just the same, I've got to read him. All of him.
Do you think I'll find his stuff in the Penny Circulator?”
“My poor, lost boy! Probably not. It is doubtless all out in the
hands of eager readers.”
However, Phil contrived to round it up somewhere. The awful and
unsuspected results I beheld on my first visit of patronage to
Barbran's cellar, the occasion being the formal opening. A large and
curious crowd of five persons, including myself and Phil Stacey, were
there. Outside, an old English design of a signboard with a wheel on it
creaked despairingly in the wind. Below was a legend: “At the Sign
of the Wheel—The Wrightery.” The interior of the cellar was
decorated with scenes from the novels of Harvey Wheelwright, triumphant
virtue, discomfited villains, benignant blessings, chaste embraces,
edifying death-beds, and orange-blossoms. They were unsigned; but well
I knew whose was the shame. Over the fireplace hung a framed letter
from the Great Soul. It began, “Dear Young Friend and Admirer,” and
ended, “Yours for the Light. Harvey Wheelwright.”
The guests did as well as could be expected. They ate and drank
everything in sight. They then left; that is to say, four of them did.
Finally Phil departed, glowering at me. I am a patient soul. No sooner
had the door slammed behind him than I turned to Barbran, who was
“Well, what have you to say in your defense?”
The way Barbran's eyebrows went up constituted in itself a defense
fit to move any jury to acquittal.
“For what?” she asked.
“For corrupting my young friend Stacey. You made him paint those
“They're very nice,” returned Barbran demurely. “Quite true to the
“They're awful. They're an offense to civilization. They're an
insult to Our Square. Of all subjects in the world, Harvey Wheelwright!
Why, Barbran? Why? Why? Why?”
“Business,” said Barbran.
“Explain, please,” said I.
“I got the idea from a friend of mine in Washington Square. She got
up a little cellar cafe built around Alice. Alice in Wonderland, you
know, and the Looking Glass. Though I don't suppose a learned and
serious person like you would ever have read such nonsense.”
“It happened to be Friday and there wasn't a hippopotamus in the
house,” I murmured.
“Oh,” said Barbran, brightening. “Well, I thought if she could do it
with Alice, I could do it with Harvey Wheelwright.”
“In the name of Hatta and the March Hare, why?”
“Because, for every one person who reads Alice nowadays, ten read
the author of 'Reborn Through Righteousness' and 'Called by the Cause.'
Isn't it so?”
“Therefore I ought to get ten times as many people as the other
place. Don't you think so?” she inquired wistfully.
Who am I to withhold a comforting fallacy from a hopeful soul.
“Undoubtedly,” I agreed. “But do you love him?”
“Who?” said Barbran, with a start. The faint pink color ran up her
“Harvey Wheelwright, of course. Whom did you think I meant?”
“He is a very estimable writer,” returned Barbran primly, quite
ignoring my other query.
“Good-night, Barbran,” said I sadly. “I'm going out to mourn your
One might reasonably expect to find peace and quiet in the vicinity
of one's own particular bench at 11.45 P.M. in Our Square. But not at
all on this occasion. There sat Phil Stacey. I challenged him at once.
“What did you do it for?”
To do him justice he did not dodge or pretend to misunderstand.
“Pay,” said he.
“Phil! Did you take money for that stuff?”
“Not exactly. I'm taking it out in trade. I'm going to eat there.”
“You'll starve to death.”
“I haven't got much of an appetite.”
“The inevitable effect of overfeeding on sweets. An uninterrupted
diet of Harvey Wheelwright—”
“Don't speak the swine's name,” implored Phil, “or I'll be sick.”
“You've sold your artistic birthright for a mess of pottage,
probably indigestible at that.”
“I don't care,” he averred stoutly. “I don't care for anything
except—Dominie, who told you her father was a millionaire?”
“It's well known,” I said vaguely. “He's a cattle king or an emperor
of sheep or the sultan of the piggery or something. A good thing for
Barbran, too, if she expects to keep her cellar going. The kind of
people who read Har—our unmentionable author, don't frequent Bohemian
coffee cellars. They would regard it as reckless and abandoned
debauchery. Barbran has shot at the wrong mark.”
“The place has got to be a success,” declared Phil between his
teeth, his plain face expressing a sort of desperate determination.
“Otherwise the butterfly will fly back West,” I suggested. The boy
What man could do to make it a success, Phil Stacey did and
heroically. Not only did he eat all his meals there, but he went forth
into the highways and byways and haled in other patrons (whom he
privately paid for) to an extent which threatened to exhaust his means.
Our Square is conservative, not to say distrustful in its bearing
toward innovations. Thornsen's Elite Restaurant has always sufficed for
our inner cravings. We are, I suppose, too old to change. Nor does
Harvey Wheelwright exercise an inspirational sway over us. We let the
little millionairess and her Washington Square importation pretty well
alone. She advertised feebly in the “Where to Eat” columns, catching a
few stray outlanders, but for the most part people didn't come. Until
the first of the month, that is. Then too many came. They brought their
bills with them.
Evening after evening Barbran and Phil Stacey sat in the cellar
almost or quite alone. So far as I could judge from my occasional
visits of patronage (Barbran furnished excellent sweet cider and cakes
for late comers), they endured the lack of custom with fortitude, not
to say indifference. But in the mornings her soft eyes looked heavy,
and once, as she was passing my bench deep in thought, I surprised a
look of blank terror on her face. One can understand that even a
millionaire's daughter might spend sleepless nights brooding over a
failure. But that look of mortal dread! How well I know it! How often
have I seen it, preceding some sordid or brave tragedy of want and
wretchedness in Our Square! What should it mean, though, on Barbran's
sunny face? Puzzling over the question I put it to the Bonnie Lassie.
“Read me a riddle, O Lady of the Wise Heart. Of what is a child of
fortune, young, strong, and charming, afraid?”
At the time we were passing the house in which the insecticidal
Angel of Death takes carefully selected and certified lodgers.
“I know whom you mean,” said the Bonnie Lassie, pointing up to the
little dormer window which was Barbran's outlook on life. “Interpret me
a signal. What do you see up there?”
“It appears to be a handkerchief pasted to the window,” said I
adjusting my glasses.
“Upside down,” said the Bonnie Lassie.
“How can a handkerchief be upside down?” I inquired, in what was
intended to be a tone of sweet reasonableness.
Contempt was all that it brought me. “Metaphorically, of course!
It's a signal of distress.”
“In what distress can Barbran be?”
“In what kind of distress are most people who live next under the
roof in Our Square?”
“She's doing that just to get into our atmosphere. She told me so
herself. A millionaire's daughter—”
“Do millionaires' daughters wash their own handkerchiefs and paste
them on windows to dry? Does any woman in or out of Our Square ever
soak her own handkerchiefs in her own washbowl except when she's
desperately saving pennies? Did you ever wash one single handkerchief
in your rooms, Dominie?”
“Certainly not. It isn't manly. Then you think she isn't a
“Look at her shoes when next you see her,” answered the Bonnie
Lassie conclusively. “I think the poor little thing has put her
every cent in the world into her senseless cellar, and she's going
“But, good Heavens!” I exclaimed. “Something has got to be done.”
“It's going to be.”
“Who's going to do it?”
“Me,” returned the Bonnie Lassie, who is least grammatical when most
“Then,” said I, “the Fates may as well shut up shop and Providence
take a day off; the universe has temporarily changed its management.
Can I help?”
The Bonnie Lassie focused her gaze in a peculiar manner upon the
exact center of my countenance. A sort of fairy grin played about her
lips. “I wonder if—No,” she sighed. “No. I don't think it would do,
Dominie. Anyway, I've got six without you.”
“Including Phil Stacey?”
“Of course,” retorted the Bonnie Lassie. “It was he who came to me
for help. I'm really doing this for him.”
“I thought you were doing it for Barbran.”
“Oh; she's just a transposed Washington Squarer,” answered the
tyrant of Our Square. “Though she's a dear kiddie, too, underneath the
“Do I understand—”
“I don't see,” interrupted the Bonnie Lassie sweetly, “how you
could. I haven't told you. And the rest are bound to secrecy. But don't
be unduly alarmed at anything queer you may see in Our Square within
the next few days.”
Only by virtue of that warning was I able to command the emotions
aroused by an encounter with Cyrus the Gaunt some evenings later. He
was hurrying across the park space in the furtive manner of one going
to a shameful rendezvous, and upon my hailing him he at first essayed
to sheer off. When he saw who it was he came up with a rather
swaggering and nonchalant effect. I may observe here that nobody has a
monopoly of nonchalance in this world.
“Good-evening, Cyrus,” I said.
“Beautiful weather we're having.”
“Couldn't be finer.”
“Do you think it will hold?”
“The paper says rain to-morrow.”
“Why is the tip of your nose painted green?”
“Is it green?” inquired Cyrus, as if he hadn't given the matter any
special consideration, but thought it quite possible.
“Emerald,” said I. “It looks as if it were mortifying.”
“It would be mortifying,” admitted Cyrus the Gaunt, “if it weren't
in a good cause.”
“What cause?” I asked.
“Come out of there!” said Cyrus the Gaunt, not to me, but to a
figure lurking in the shrubbery.
The Little Red Doctor emerged. I took one look at his most
“You, too!” I said. “What do you mean by it?”
“Ask Cyrus,” returned the Little Red Doctor glumly.
“It's a cult,” said Cyrus. “The credit of the notion belongs not to
me, but to my esteemed better half. A few chosen souls—”
“Here comes another of them,” I conjectured, as a bowed form
approached. “Who is it? MacLachan!”
The old Scot appeared to be suffering from a severe cold. His
handkerchief was pressed to his face.
“Take it down, Mac,” I ordered. “It's useless.” He did so, and my
worst suspicions were confirmed.
“He bullied me into it,” declared the tailor, glowering at Cyrus the
“It'll do your nose good,” declared Cyrus jauntily. “Give it a
change. Complementary colors, you know. What ho! Our leader.”
Phil Stacey appeared. He appeared serious; that is, as serious as
one can appear when his central feature glows like the starboard light
of an incoming steamship. Following him were Leon Coventry, huge and
shy, and the lethal Boggs looking unhappy.
“Where are you all going?” I demanded.
“To the Wrightery,” said Phil.
“Is it a party?”
“It's a gathering.”
“Am I included?”
“Not on any account,” I declared firmly. It had just occurred to me
why the Bonnie Lassie had centered her gaze upon my features. “Follow
your indecent noses as far as you like. I stay.”
Still lost in meditation, I may have dozed on my bench, when heavy,
measured footsteps aroused me. I looked up to see Terry the Cop,
guardian of our peace, arbiter of differences, conservator of our
morals. I peered at him with anxiety.
“Terry,” I inquired, “how is your nose?”
“Keen, Dominie,” said Terry. He sniffed the air. “Don't you detect
the smell of illegal alcohol?”
“I can't say I do.”
“It's very plain,” declared the officer wriggling his nasal organ
which, I was vastly relieved to observe, retained its original hue.
“Wouldn't you say, Dominie, it comes from yonder cellar?”
“I am informed that a circle of dangerous char-ack_ters with
green noses gather there and drink cider containing more than
two-seventy-five per cent of apple juice. I'm about to pull the place.”
“For Heaven's sake, Terry; don't do that! You'll scare—”
“Whisht, Dominie!” interrupted Terry with an elaborate wink.
“There'll be no surprise, except maybe to the Judge in the morning. You
better drop in at the court.”
Of the round-up I have no details, except that it seemed to be
quietly conducted. The case was called the next day, before Magistrate
Wolf Tone Hanrahan, known as the “Human Judge.” Besides being human,
his Honor is, as may be inferred from his name, somewhat Irish. He
heard the evidence, tested the sample, announced his intention of
coming around that evening for some more, and honorably discharged
“And what about these min?” he inquired, gazing upon the dauntless
“Dangerous suspects, Yeronner,” said Terry the Cop.
“They look mild as goat's milk to me,” returned the Magistrate,
“though now I get me eye on the rid-hidded wan [with a friendly wink at
the Little Red Doctor] I reckonize him as a desprit charackter that'd
save your life as soon as look at ye. What way are they dang'rous?”
“When apprehended,” replied Terry, looking covertly about to see
that the reporters were within hearing distance, “their noses were
“Is this true?” asked the Magistrate of the six.
“It is, your Honor,” they replied.
“An', why not!” demanded the Human Judge hotly. “'Tis a glorious
color! Erin go bragh! Off'cer, ye've exceeded yer jooty. D' ye think
this is downtrodden an' sufferin' Oireland an' yerself the tyrant
Gineral French? Let 'em paint their noses anny color they loike; but
green for preference. I'm tellin' ye, this is the land of freedom an'
equality, an' ivery citizen thereof is entitled to life, liberty, and
the purshoot of happiness, an' a man's nose is his castle, an' don't ye
fergit it. Dis-charrrrged! Go an' sin no more. I mane, let the good
worruk go awn!”
“Now watch for the evening papers,” said young Phil Stacey
exultantly. “The Wrightery will get some free advertising that'll crowd
it for months.”
Alas for youth's golden hopes! The evening papers ignored the
carefully prepared event. One morning paper published a paragraph,
attributing the green noses to a masquerade party. The conspirators,
gathered at the cellar with their war-paints on (in case of reporters),
discussed the fiasco in embittered tones. Young Stacey raged against a
stupid and corrupt press. MacLachan expressed the acidulous hope that
thereafter Cyrus the Gaunt would be content with making a fool of
himself without implicating innocent and confiding friends. The Bonnie
Lassie was not present, but sent word (characteristically) that they
must have done it all wrong; men had no sense, anyway. The party then
sent out for turpentine and broke up to reassemble no more. Only Phil
Stacey, inventor of the great idea, was still faithful to and hopeful
of it. Each evening he conscientiously greened himself and went to eat
Time justified his faith. One evening there dropped in a plump man
who exhaled a mild and comforting benevolence, like a gentle country
parson. He smiled sweetly at Phil, and introduced himself as a reporter
for the “Sunday World Magazine”—and where was the rest of the circle?
In a flurry of excitement, the pair sent for Cyrus the Gaunt to do the
talking. Cyrus arrived, breathless and a trifle off color (the Bonnie
Lassie had unfortunately got a touch of bronze scenic paint mixed with
the green, so that he smelled like an over-ripe banana), and proceeded
“This,” he explained, “is a new cult. It is based on the
back-to-the-spring idea. The well-spring of life, you know.
The—er—spring of eternal youth, and—and so forth. You understand?”
“I hope to,” said the reporter politely. “Why on the nose?”
“I will explain that,” returned Cyrus, getting his second wind; “but
first let me get the central idea in your mind. It's a nature movement;
a readjustment of art to nature. All nature is green. Look about you.”
Here he paused for effect, which was unfortunate.
“Quite so,” agreed the reporter. “The cable-car, for instance, and
the dollar bill, not to mention the croton bug and the polar bear. But,
pardon me, I interrupt the flow of your eloquence.”
“You do,” said Cyrus severely. “Inanimate nature I speak of. All
inanimate nature is green. But we poor fellow creatures have gotten
away from the universal mother-color. We must get back to it. We must
learn to think greenly. But first we must learn to see greenly. How
shall we accomplish this? Put green in our eyes? Impossible,
unfortunately. But, our noses—there is the solution. In direct
proximity to the eye, the color, properly applied, tints one's vision
of all things. Green shadows in a green world,” mooned Cyrus the Gaunt
poetically. “As the bard puts it:
“'Annihilating all that's made
To a green thought in a green shade.'“
“Wait a minute,” said the visitor, and made a note on an
“Accordingly, Miss Barbran, the daughter and heiress of a
millionaire cattle owner in Wyoming [here the reporter made his second
note], has established this center where we meet to renew and refresh
“Good!” said the benevolent reporter. “Fine! Of course it's all
“Bunk!” echoed Barbran and Phil, aghast, while Cyrus sat with his
lank jaw drooping.
“You don't see any of your favorite color in my eye, do you?”
inquired the visitor pleasantly. “Just what you're putting over I don't
know. Some kind of new grease paint, perhaps. Don't tell me. It's good
enough, anyway. I'll fall for it. It's worth a page story. Of course
I'll want some photographs of the mural paintings. They're almost
painfully beautiful.... What's wrong with our young friend; is he
sick?” he added, looking with astonishment at Phil Stacey who was
exhibiting sub-nauseous symptoms.
“He painted 'em,” explained Cyrus, grinning.
“And he's sorry,” supplemented Barbran.
“Yes; I wouldn't wonder. Well, I won't give him away,” said the
kindly journalist. “Now, as to the membership of your circle....”
The Sunday “story” covered a full page. The “millionairess” feature
was played up conspicuously and repeatedly, and the illustrations did
what little the text failed to do. It was a “josh-story” from beginning
“I'll kill that pious fraud of a reporter,” declared Phil.
“Now the place is ruined,” mourned Barbran.
“Wait and see,” advised the wiser Cyrus.
Great is the power of publicity. The Wrightery was swamped with
custom on the Monday evening following publication, and for the rest of
that week and the succeeding week.
“I never was good at figures,” said the transported Barbran to Phil
Stacey at the close of the month, “but as near as I can make out, I've
a clear profit of eight dollars and seventy cents. My fortune is made.
And it's all due to you.”
Had the Bonnie Lassie been able to hold her painted retainers in
line, the owner's golden prophecy might have been made good. But they
had other matters on hand for their evenings than sitting about in a
dim cellar gazing cross-eyed at their own scandalous noses. MacLachan
was the first defection. He said that he thought he was going crazy and
he knew he was going blind. The Little Red Doctor was unreliable owing
to the pressure of professional calls. He complained with some justice
that a green nose on a practicing physician tended to impair
confidence. Then Leon Coventry went away, and Boggs discovered (or
invented) an important engagement with a growing family of
clothes-moths in a Connecticut country house. So there remained only
the faithful Phil. One swallow does not make a summer; nor does one
youth with a vernal proboscis convince a skeptical public that it is
enjoying the fearful companionship of a subversive and revolutionary
cult. Patronage ebbed out as fast as it had flooded in. Barbran's eyes
were as soft and happy as ever in the evenings, when she and Phil sat
in a less and less interrupted solitude. But in the mornings palpable
fear stalked her. Phil never saw it. He was preoccupied with a dread of
One evening of howling wind and hammering rain, when all was cosy
and home-like for two in the little firelit Wrightery, she nerved
herself up to facing the facts.
“It's going to be a failure,” she said dismally.
“Then you're going away?” he asked, trying to keep his voice from
She set her little chin quite firmly. “Not while there's a chance
left of pulling it out.”
“Well; it doesn't matter as far as I'm concerned,” he muttered. “I'm
going away myself.”
“You?” She sat up very straight and startled. “Where?”
“Oh! What for?”
“Do you remember a fat old grandpa who was here last month and came
back to ask about the decorations?”
“He's built him a new house—he calls it a mansion—and he wants me
to paint the music-room. He likes”—Phil gulped a little—“my style of
“Isn't that great!” said Barbran in the voice of one giving three
cheers for a funeral. “How does he want his music-room decorated?”
Young Phil put his head in his hands. “Scenes from Moody and
Sankey,” he said in a muffled voice.
“Good gracious! You aren't going to do it?”
“I am,” retorted the other gloomily. “It's good money.” Almost
immediately he added, “Damn the money!”
“No; no; you mustn't do that. You must go, of course. Would—will it
“I'm not coming back.”
“I don't want you not to come back,” said Barbran, in a
queer, frightened voice. She put out her hand to him and hastily
He said desperately: “What's the use? I can't sit here forever
looking at you and—and dreaming of—of impossible things, and eating
my heart out with my nose painted green.”
“The poor nose!” murmured Barbran.
With one of her home-laundered handkerchiefs dipped in turpentine,
she gently rubbed it clean. It then looked (as she said later in a
feeble attempt to palliate her subsequent conduct) very pink and boyish
and pathetic, but somehow faithful and reliable and altogether lovable.
So she kissed it. Then she tried to run away. The attempt failed.
It was not Barbran's nose that got kissed next. Nor, for that
matter, was it young Phil's. Then he held her off and shut his eyes,
for the untrammeled exercise of his reasoning powers, and again
demanded of Barbran and the fates:
“What's the use?”
“What's the use of what?” returned Barbran tremulously.
“Of all this? Your father's a millionaire, and I won't—I can't—”
“He isn't!” cried Barbran. “And you can—you will.”
“He isn't?” ejaculated Phil. “What is he?”
“He's a school-teacher, and I haven't got a thing but debts.”
Phil received this untoward news as if a flock of angels, ringing
joy bells, had just brought him the gladdest tidings in history. After
an interlude he said:
“Because,” said Barbran, burrowing her nose in his coat: “I thought
it would be an asset. I thought people would consider it romantic and
it would help business. See how much that reporter made of it! Phil!
Wh-wh-why are you treating me like a—a—a—dumbbell?”
For he had thrust her away from him at arm's-length again.
“There's one other thing between us, Barbran.”
“If there is, it's your fault. What is it?”
“Harvey Wheelwright,” he said solemnly. “Do you really like that
She raised to him eyes in which a righteous hate quivered. “I loathe
him. I've always loathed him. I despise the very ink he writes with and
the paper it's printed on.”
When I happened in a few minutes later, they were ritually burning
the “Dear Friend and Admirer” letter in a slow candle-flame, and Harvey
Wheelwright, as represented by his unctuously rolling signature, was
writhing in merited torment. Between them they told me their little
“And he's not going to Kansas City,” said Barbran defiantly.
“I'm not going anywhere, ever, away from Barbran,” said young Phil.
“And he's going to paint what he wants to.”
“Pictures of Barbran,” said young Phil.
“And we're going to burn the Wheel sign in effigy, and wipe off the
walls and make the place a success,” said Barbran.
“And we're going to be married right away,” said Phil.
“Next week,” said Barbran.
“What do you think?” said both.
Now I know what I ought to have said just as well as MacLachan
himself. I should have pointed out the folly and recklessness of
marrying on twenty-five dollars a week and a dowry of debts. I should
have preached prudence and caution and delay, and have pointed out—The
wind blew the door open: Young Spring was in the park, and the wet odor
of little burgeoning leaves was borne in, wakening unwithered memories
in my withered heart.
“Bless you, my children!” said I.
It was actually for this, as holding out encouragement to their
reckless, feckless plans, that Wisdom, in the person of MacLachan, the
tailor, reprehended me, rather than for my historical intentions
regarding the pair.
“What'll they be marryin' on?” demanded Mac Wisdom—that is to say,
“Spring and youth,” I said. “The fragrance of lilac in the air, the
glow of romance in their hearts. What better would you ask?”
“A bit of prudence,” said MacLachan.
“Prudence!” I retorted scornfully. “The miser of the virtues. It may
pay its own way through the world. But when did it ever take Happiness
along for a jaunt?”
I was quite pleased with my little epigram until the Scot countered
upon me with his observation about two young fools and an old one.
Oh, well! Likely enough. Most unwise, and rash and inexcusable, that
headlong mating; and there will be a reckoning to pay. Babies,
probably, and new needs and pressing anxieties, and Love will perhaps
flutter at the window when Want shows his grim face at the door; and
Wisdom will be justified of his forebodings, and yet—and yet—who am
I, old and lonely and uncompanioned, yet once touched with the spheral
music and the sacred fire, that I should subscribe to the dour
orthodoxies of MacLachan and that ilk?
Years and years ago a bird flew in at my window, a bird of wonderful
and flashing hues, and of lilting melodies. It came; it tarried—and I
let the chill voice of Prudence overbear its music. It left me. But the
song endures; the song endures, and all life has been the richer for
its echoes. So let them hold and cherish their happiness, the two young
As for the old one, would that some good fairy, possessed of the
pigment and secret of perishable youth, might come down and paint his
PLOOIE OF OUR SQUARE
Whenever Plooie went shuffling by my bench, I used to think of an
old and melancholy song that my grandfather sang:
“And his skin was so thin
You could almost see his bones
As he ran, hobble—hobble—hobble
Over the stones.”
Before I could wholly recapture the quaint melody, my efforts would
invariably be nullified by the raucous shriek of his trade which had
forever fixed the nickname whereby Our Square knew Plooie:
“Parapluie-ee-ee-ee-ees a raccommoder!” He would then recapitulate
in English, or rather that unreproducible dialect which was his
substitute for it. “Oombrella for mend? Annie oombrella for mend?”
So he would pass on his way, shattering the peaceful air at
half-minute intervals with his bilingual disharmonies. He was pallid,
meagerly built, stoop-shouldered, bristly-haired, pock-marked, and
stiff-gaited, with a face which would have been totally insignificant
but for an obstinate chin and a pair of velvet-black, pathetically
questioning eyes; and he was incurably an outlander. For five years he
had lived among us, occupying a cubbyhole in Schepstein's basement full
of ribs, handles, crooks, patches, and springs, without appreciably
improving his speech or his position. It was said that his name was
Garin—nobody really knew or cared—and it was assumed from his speech
that he was French.
Few umbrellas came his way. Those of us affluent enough to maintain
such non-essentials patch them ourselves until they are beyond
reclamation. Why Plooie did not starve is one of the mysteries of Our
Square, though by no means the only one of its kind. I have a notion
that the Bonnie Lassie, to whom any variety of want or helplessness is
its own sufficient recommendation, drummed up trade for him among her
uptown friends. Something certainly enlisted his gratitude, for he
invariably took off his frowsy cap when he passed her house, whether or
not she was there to see, and he once unbosomed himself to me to the
extent of declaring that she was a kind lady. This is the only
commentary I ever heard him make upon any one in Our Square, which in
turn completely ignored him until the development of his love affair
stimulated our condescending and contemptuous interest.
The object of Plooie's addresses was a little Swiss of unknown
derivation and obscure history. She appeared to be as detached from the
surrounding world as the umbrella-mender himself. An insignificant bit
of a thing she was, anaemic and subdued, with a sad little face, soft
hazel eyes slightly crossed, and the deprecating manner of those who
scrub other people's doorsteps at fifteen cents an hour.
For a year their courtship, if such it might be termed, ran an
uneventful course. I had almost said unromantic. But who shall tell
where is fancy bred or wherein romance consists? Whenever Plooie saw
the drabbled little worker busy on a doorstep, he would cross over and
open the conversation according to an invariable formula.
“Annie oombrella for mend? Annie oombrella?” Thereby the little
Swiss became known as, and ever will be called locally, “Annie
Oombrella.” Like most close-knit, centripetal communities, we have a
fatal penchant for nicknames in Our Square.
She would look up and smile wanly, and shake her head. Where,
indeed, should the like of her get an umbrella to be mended!
Then would he say—I shall not attempt to torture the good English
alphabet into a reproduction of his singular phonetics: “It makes fine
to-day, it do!”
And she would reply “Yes, a fine day”; and look as if the sun were a
little warmer upon her pale skin because of Plooie's greeting, as,
perhaps, indeed, it was.
After that he would nod solemnly, or, if feeling especially
loquacious, venture some prophecy concerning the morrow, before
resuming his unproductive rounds and his lugubrious yawp. One day he
discovered that she spoke French. From that time the relationship
advanced rapidly. On Christmas he gave her a pair of red woolen gloves.
On New Year's he took her walking among the tombstones in God's Acre,
which is a serious and sentimental, not to say determinative, social
step. Twice in the following week he carried her bucket from house to
house. And in the glowing dusk of a crisp winter afternoon they sat
together hand in hand, on a bench back of my habitual seat, and looked
in each other's eyes, and spoke, infrequently, in their own language,
forgetful of the rest of the world, including myself, who was, perhaps,
supposed not to understand. But even without hearing their words, I
could have guessed. It was very simple and direct, and rather touching.
“If one marries themselves?”
And she replied: “I believe it well.”
They kissed solemnly, and their faces, in the gleam of the electric
light which at that moment spluttered into ill-timed and tactless
activity, were transfigured so that I marveled at the dim splendor of
But the Bonnie Lassie was scandalized. On general principles she
mistrusts that any marriage is really made in heaven unless she acts as
earthly agent of it. What had those two poverty-stricken little
creatures to marry on? She put the question rhetorically to Our Square
in general and to the two people most concerned in particular. Courts
of law might have rejected their replies as irrelevant. Humanly,
however, they were convincing enough.
Said Plooie: “Who will have a care of that little one if I have
Said Annie Oombrella: “He is so lonely!”
So those two unfortunates united their misfortunes, and lo!
happiness came of it. Luckily that is all that did come of it. What
disposition the pair would have made of children, had any arrived, it
is difficult to conjecture. Only by miraculous compression of ribs,
handles, and fabrics was space contrived in the basement cubbyhole for
Annie Oombrella to squeeze in. However, she set up housekeeping
cheerily as a bird, with an odd lot of pots and pans which Schepstein
had picked up at an auction and resold to them at not more than two
hundred per cent profit, plus a kerosene stove, the magnificent wedding
gift of the Bonnie Lassie and her husband, Cyrus the Gaunt. Twice a
week they had meat. They were rising in the social scale.
Habitude is the real secret of tolerance. As we became accustomed to
Plooie, Our Square ceased to resent his invincible outlandishness; we
endured him with equanimity, although it would be exaggeration to say
that we accepted him, and we certainly did not patronize him
professionally. Nevertheless, in a minor degree, he nourished. Annie
Oombrella must have lavished care upon him. His pinched-in shoulders
broadened perceptibly. His gait, still a halting shuffle, grew
noticeably brisker. There was even a heartier note in his lamentable
“Parapluie-ee-ee-ee-ees a raccommoder!”
As for Annie Oombrella, having some one to look after quite
transformed her. She grew plump and chirpy, and bustling as a blithe
little sparrow, though perhaps duck would be a happier comparison, for
she was dabbling and splashing in water all the day long, making the
stairs and porches of her curatorship fairly glisten with cleanliness.
Her rates went up to twenty cents an hour. There were rumors that she
had started a savings account. Life stretched out before the little
couple, smooth and peaceful and sunny with companionship.
Then came the war.
The calamitous quality of a great world tragedy is that it brings to
so many helpless little folk bitter and ignoble tragedies of shame and
humiliation and misunderstanding. With a few racial exceptions, Our
Square was vehemently pro-Ally. In spirit we fought with valiant France
and prayed for heroic Belgium. What a Godspeed we gave to the few sons
of Gaul who, in those early days, left us to fight the good fight! How
sourly we looked upon Plooie continuing his peaceful rounds. Whence
arose the rumor, I cannot say, but it was noised about just at that
time of wrath and tension that Plooie was born in Liege. Liege, that
city of fire and slaughter and heroism, upon which the eyes and hopes
of the world were turned in wonder and admiration. Somebody had seen
the entry on the marriage register! The Bonnie Lassie told me of it,
pausing at my bench with a little furrow between her bright eyes.
“Dominie, you know Emile Garin pretty well?”
“Not at all,” I replied, failing to identify the rickety Plooie by
his rightful name.
“Of course you do! Never a morning but he stops at your bench and
asks if you have an umbrella to mend.”
“I never have. What of him?”
“Have you any influence with him?”
“Not compared with yours.”
The Bonnie Lassie made a little gesture of despair. “I can't find
him. And Annie Oombrella won't tell me where he is. She only cries.”
“That's bad. You think he—he is—”
“Why don't you say it outright, Dominie? You think he's
“Really!” I expostulated. “You come to me with accusations against
the poor fellow and then undertake to make me responsible for them.”
“I don't believe it's true at all,” averred the Bonnie Lassie
loyally. “I don't believe Plooie is a coward. There's some reason why
he doesn't go over and help! I want to know what it is.”
Perceiving that I was expected to provide excuses for the erring
one, I did my best. “Over age,” I suggested.
“He's only thirty-two.”
“Bless me! He looks sixty. Well—physical infirmity.”
“He can carry a load all day.”
“He won't leave Annie Oombrella, then. Or perhaps she won't let
“When I asked her, she cried harder than ever and said that her
mother was French and she would go and fight herself, if they'd have
“Then I give it up. What does your Olympian wisdom make of it?”
“I don't know. But I'm afraid the Garins are going to have trouble.”
Within a few days Plooie reappeared and his strident falsetto appeal
for trade rang shrill in the space of Our Square. Trouble developed at
once. Small boys booed at him, called him “yellow,” and advised him to
go carefully, there was a German behind the next tree. Henri Dumain,
our little old French David who fought the tragic duel of tooth and
claw with his German Jonathan in Thornsen's Elite Restaurant, stung him
with that most insulting word in any known tongue—“Lache!”—and
threatened him with uplifted cane; and poor Plooie slunk away. But I
think it was the fact that he who stayed at home when others went
forward had set a picture of Albert of Belgium in the window of his
cubbyhole that most exasperated us against him. Tactless, to say the
least! His call grew quavery and furtive. Annie Oombrella ceased to
sing at work. Matters looked ill for the Garins.
The evil came to a head the week after David and Jonathan broke off
all relations. Perhaps that tragedy of shattered friendship (afterward
rejoined through the agency of the great peacemaker, Death) had got on
our nerves. Ordinarily, had Plooie chased a small boy who had tipped a
barrel down his basement steps, nothing would have come of it. But the
chase took him into the midst of a group of the younger and more
boisterous element, returning from a business meeting of the
Gentlemen's Sons of Avenue B, and before he could turn, they had
“Here's our little 'ee-ro!” “Looka the Frenchy that won't fight!”
“Safety first, hey, Plooie?” “Charge umbrellas—backward, march!”
Plooie did his best to break for a run through, which was the worst
thing he could have tried. They collared him. By that contact he became
their captive, their prey. What to do with him? To loose a prisoner,
once in the hand, is an unthinkable anti-climax. Somebody developed an
inspirational thought: “Ride him on a rail!”
Near by, a house front under repair supplied a scantling. Plooie was
hustled upon it. He fell off. They jammed him back again. He clung,
wide-eyed, white-faced, and silent. The mob, for it was that now, bore
him with jeers and jokes and ribaldry along the edge of the park.
When they came within my ken he was riding high, and the mob was
being augmented momentarily from every quarter. I looked about for
Terry the Cop. But Terry was elsewhere. It is not beyond the bounds of
reasonable probability that he had absented himself on purpose. “God
hates a coward” is a tenet of Terry's creed. I confess to a certain
sympathy with it myself. After all, a harsh lesson might not be amiss
for Plooie, the recusant. Composing my soul to a non-intervention
policy, I leaned back on my bench, when a pitiful sight ruined my
Along the outer edge of the compact mob trotted little Annie
Oombrella. From time to time she dashed herself blindly against that
human wall, which repulsed her not too roughly and with indulgent
laughter. Their concern was not with her. It was with the coward; their
prisoner, delivered by fate to the stern decrees of mob justice. I
could hear his voice now, calling out to her in their own language
across the supervening heads:
“Do not have fear, my little one. They do me no harm. Go you home,
little cat. Soon I come also. Do not fear.”
From his forehead ran a little stream of blood. But there was that
in his face which told me that if he was fearful it was only for her.
His voice, steady and piercing, overrode the clamor of the crowd. I
began to entertain doubts as to his essential cowardice.
Annie Oombrella, dumb with misery and terror, only dashed herself
the more hopelessly against the barrier of bodies.
Even the delight of rail-riding a victim becomes monotonous in time.
The many-headed sought further measures of correction and reprobation.
“Le's tar-and-feather him.”
“Where'll we gettum?”
“Satkins's kosher shop on the Av'noo.”
“Where's yer tar?”
This was a poser; Satkins was saved from a raid. A more practical
expedient now evolved from the collective brain.
“Duck'm in the fountain!”
“Drown him in the fountain!” amended an enthusiast.
Whooping with delight, the mob turned toward the gate. This was
becoming dangerous. That there was no real intent to drown the
unfortunate umbrella-mender I was well satisfied. But mob intent is
subject to mob impulse. If they once got him into the water, the
temptation of the playful to push his head under just once more might
be too strong. Plainly the time was ripe for intervention.
Owing to some enthusiastically concerted but ill-directed
engineering, the scantling with its human burden had jammed crosswise
of the posts. Now, if ever, was the opportunity for eloquence of
For the heroic role of Horatius at the Bridge I am ill-fitted both
by temperament and the fullness of years. Nevertheless, I advanced into
the imminent deadly breach and raised the appeal to reason.
The result was unsatisfactory. Some hooted. Others laughed.
“Never mind the Dominie,” yelled Inky Mike, laying hold of the rail
by an end and hauling it around. “He don't mean nothin'.”
Old bones are no match for young barbarism. The rush through the
gate brushed me aside like a feather. I saw the tragi-comic parade go
by, as I leaned against a supporting tree: the advance guard of
clamorous urchins, the rail-bearers, the white-faced figure of Plooie,
jolted aloft, bleeding but calm, self-forgetful, and still calling out
reassurances to his wife; the jostling rabble, and upon the edge of it
a frantic woman, clawing, sobbing, imploring. On they swept. I listened
for the splash.
It did not come.
A lion had risen in the path. To be more accurate, a lioness. To my
unsuccessful role of Horatius, a Horatia better fitted for the fray had
succeeded, in the austere and superb person of Madame Rachel Pinckney
Pemberton Tallafferr, aforetime of the sovereign State of Virginia.
Where all my eloquence had failed, she checked that joyously
anticipative rabble by the simple query, set in the chillest and most
peremptory of aristocratic tones, as to what they were doing.
I like to think—the Bonnie Lassie says that I am flattering myself
thereby—that it was the momentary halt caused by my abortive effort to
hold the gate, which gave time for a greater than my humble self to
Madame Tallafferr, in the glory of black silk, the Pinckney lace,
the Pemberton diamond, and accompanied by that fat relic of slavery,
Black Sally, had been taking the air genteelly on a bench when the
disturbance grated upon her sensitive ear.
“What is that rabble about, Sally?” she inquired.
The aged negress reconnoitered. “Reckon dey's ridin' a gentmun on a
rail,” she reported.
“A gentleman, Sally? Impossible. No gentleman would endure
such an affront. Look again.”
“Yessum. It's dat po' white trash dey call Plooie. Mainded yo'
“My umbrella-mender!” (The mere fact that the victim had once
tinkered for her a decrepit parasol entitled him in her feudal mind to
the high protection of the Tallafferr tradition.) “Tell them to desist
Apologetically but shrewdly Sally opined that the neighborhood of
the advancing mob was “no place foh a niggah.”
With perfect faith in the powers of her superior she added: “You
desist 'em, mist'ess.”
Sally's confidence in her mistress was equaled or perhaps even
excelled by her mistress's confidence in herself.
Leaning upon her cane and attended by the faithful though terrified
servitor, Madame Tallafferr rustled forward. She took her stand upon
the brink of the fountain in almost the exact spot where she had
disarmed MacLachan, the tailor, drunk, songful, and suicidal, two years
before. Since that feat an almost mythologic awe had attached itself to
She waited, small and thin, hawk-eyed, imperious, and tempered like
steel. The ring of tempered steel, too, was in her voice when, at the
proper moment, she raised it.
“What are you doing?”
The clamor of the mob died down. The sight of Horatia (I beg her
pardon humbly, Madame Tallafferr) in the path smote them with
misgivings. As in Macaulay's immortal, if somewhat jingly epic, “those
behind cried 'Forward' and those before cried 'Back'!” That single hale
and fiery old lady held them. No more could those two hundred ruffians
have defied the challenge of her contemptuous eyes than they could have
advanced into the flaming doors of a furnace.
A cautious voice from the rear inquired: “Who's the dame?”
“She's a witch,” conjectured some one.
“It's the Duchess,” said another, giving her the local title of
“It's the lady that shot the tailor,” proclaimed an awe-stricken
bystander. (Legend takes strange twists in Our Square as elsewhere.)
Some outlander, ignorant of our traditions, prescribed in a malevolent
“T'row 'er in the drink.”
“Who spoke?” said Madame Tallafferr, crisp and clear.
Silence. Then the sound of objurgations as the advocate frantically
resisted well-meant efforts to thrust him into undesirable prominence.
Finally a miniature eruption outward from the mob's edge, followed by a
glimpse of a shadowy figure departing at full speed. The Duchess
leveled a bony finger at Inky Mike, the nearest figure personally known
to her, who began a series of contortions suggestive of a desire to
crawl into his own pocket.
“Michael,” said the Duchess.
“Yessum,” said Inky Mike, whose name happens to be Moe Sapperstein.
“What are you doing to that unfortunate person?”
“J-j-just a little j-j-joke,” replied the other in what was
doubtless intended for a light-hearted and care-free tone.
“Let him down.” Inky Mike hesitated. “At once!” snapped the Duchess
and stamped her foot.
“Yessum,” said Inky Mike meekly.
Loosing his hold on the scantling, he retreated upon the feet of
those behind. They let go also. Plooie slid forward to the ground.
Madame Tallafferr's bony finger (backed by the sparkle of an
authoritative diamond) swept slowly around a half-circle, with very
much the easy and significant motion of a machine gun and something of
the effect. A subtle suggestion of limpness manifested itself in the
mass before her. Addressing them, she raised her voice not a whit. She
had no need to.
“Go about your business,” she said. “Rabble!” she added in precisely
the tone which one might expect of a well-bred but particularly deadly
The mob wilted to a purposeless and abashed crowd. The crowd
disintegrated into individuals. The individuals asked themselves what
they were doing there, and, finding no sufficient answer, slunk away.
Plooie was triumphantly escorted by Madame Tallafferr and Black Sally,
and (less triumphantly) by my limping self, to the nearest haven, which
chanced to be the Bonnie Lassie's house. Annie Oombrella pattered along
beside him, fumbling his hand and trying not to cry.
But when the Bonnie Lassie saw the melancholy wreck, she
cried, as much from fury as from pity, and said that men were brutes
and bullies and cowards and imbeciles—and why hadn't her Cyrus been at
home to stop it? Whereto Madame Tallafferr complacently responded that
Mr. Cyrus Staten had not been needed: the canaille would always
respect a proper show of authority from its superiors; and so went
home, rustling and sparkling.
After all, Plooie was not much hurt. Perhaps more frightened than
anything else. Panic was, in fact, the reason generally ascribed in Our
Square for his quiet departure, with his Annie, of course, on the
following Sunday. Only the Bonnie Lassie dissented. But as the Bonnie
Lassie reasons with her heart instead of her head, we accept her
theories with habitual and smiling indulgence rather than
respect—until the facts bear them out. She had, it appeared, called on
the Plooies to inquire as to their proposed course, and had rather more
than hinted that if the head of the house wished to respond to his
country's call, Our Square would look after Annie Oombrella. To this he
returned only a stubborn and somber silence. The Bonnie Lassie said
afterward that he seemed ashamed. She added that he had left good-bye
for me and hoped the Dominie would not think too hard of him. Recalling
that I had rather markedly failed to acknowledge his salute on the
morning before his departure, I felt a qualm of misgiving. After all,
judging your neighbor's soul is a kittle business. There is such an
insufficiency of data.
So Schepstein lost a renter. The basement cubbyhole remained vacant,
with only the picture of Albert of the Kingdom of Sorrows in the window
as a memento. Nothing further was seen or heard of Plooie. But
Schepstein, wandering far afield in search of tenement sales a full
year after, encountered Annie Oombrella washing down the steps of an
office far over in Lewis Street, nearly to the river. All the plumpness
which she had taken on in the happy days was gone. She looked wistful
Schepstein, doing the polite (which, as he accurately states, costs
nothing and might get you something some time), asked after Plooie.
Where was he? Annie Oombrella shook her head.
“Left you, has he?” asked Schepstein, astonished at this evidence of
“Yes,” said Annie Oombrella. But there was a ring in her voice that
Schepstein failed to understand. It sounded almost like defiance. Her
eyes were deep-hollowed and sorrowful, but they met his as squarely as
they could, considering their cast. Schepstein was quite shocked to
observe that there was no shame in them. I suppose the shock
temporarily unbalanced his principles, for, having caught sight of one
of her shoes, he offered to lend her three dollars, indefinitely and
without interest, on her bare note-of-hand. (When he saw the other
shoe, he made it five.) She looked at the money anxiously, but shook
“Well, if you ever need a home, the basement's vacant and there
ain't a better basement in Our Square.”
Annie Oombrella began to cry quietly, and Schepstein went on about
Through the ensuing years many women cried quietly or vehemently,
according to their natures, and many men went away from places that had
known them, to be no more known of those places; and the little Kingdom
of Sorrows, shattered, blood-soaked, and unconquerable, stood fast, a
bulwark between the ravager of the world and his victory until there
sped across the death-haunted seas the army that was to turn the
scales. Our Square gave to that sacrifice what it can never recover:
witness the simple memorials in Our Square.
Many people see ghosts; Our Square is well haunted, as befits its
ancient and diminished glories. Few hear ghosts. This is as it ought to
be. In their very nature, ghosts should be seen, not heard. Yet, in the
year of grace, 1919, under a blazing September sun, with a cicada,
vagrant from heaven knows whence, frying his sizzling sausages in our
lilac bush, and other equally insistent sounds of reality filling the
air, my ears were smitten with a voice from the realm of wraiths.
“Parapluie-ee-ee-ee-ees,” it cried on a faint and cluttering note.
“Parapluie-ee-ee-ee-ees a raccommoder.”
Over in the far corner of the park an apparition moved into my
visual range. It looked like Plooie. It moved like Plooie. It was
loaded like Plooie. It opened a mouth like Plooie's and emitted again
the familiar though diminished falsetto shriek. No doubt of it now; it
was Plooie. He had come back to us who never thought to see him
again, who never wished to see him again, still unpurged of his stigma.
As he passed me, I acknowledged his greeting, somewhat stiffly, I
fear, and walked over to Schepstein's. There in the basement, amid the
familiar wreckage as of a thousand umbrellas, sat little Annie.
“Bonjour, Dominie,” said she wistfully.
“Good-morning, Annie. So you are back.”
“Yes, Dominie. Is there need that one wash the step at your house?”
“There is need that one explain one's self. What have you been doing
these three years?”
“I work. I work hard.”
“And your husband? What has he been doing?” I asked sternly.
Annie Oombrella's soft face drooped. “Soyez gentil, Dominie,” she
implored. “Be a kind, good man and ask him not. That make him so
“He doesn't look well, Annie.”
“He have been ver' seeck. Now we come home he is already weller.”
“But do you think it is wise for you to come back here?” I demanded,
feeling brutal as I put the question. Annie Oombrella's reply did not
make me feel any less so. She sent a quivering look around that
unspeakably messy, choked-up little hole in the wall that was home to
Plooie and her.
“We have loved each other so much here,” said she.
Our Square is too poor to be enduringly uncharitable, either in deed
or thought. War's resentments died out quickly in us. No longer was
Plooie in danger of mob violence. By common consent we let him alone;
he made his rounds unmolested, but also unpatronized. But for Annie
Oombrella's prodigies of industry with pail and brush, the little
couple in Schepstein's basement would have fared ill.
Annie earned for both. In the process, happiness came back to her
To the fat Rosser twin accrues the credit of a pleasurable discovery
about Plooie. This was that, if you sneaked softly up behind him and
shouted: “Hey, Plooie! What was you doing in the war?” his jaw
would drop and his whole rackety body begin to quiver, and he would
heave his burden to his shoulder and break into a spavined gallop,
muttering and sobbing like one demented. As the juvenile sense of humor
is highly developed in Our Square, Plooie got a good deal of exercise,
first and last.
Eventually he foiled them by coming out only in school hours. This
didn't help his trade. But then his trade had dwindled to the vanishing
point anyway. Even Madame Tallafferr had dropped him. She preferred not
to deal with a poltroon, as she put it.
On the day of the great exodus, Plooie put in some extra hours. He
was in no danger from his youthful persecutors, because they had all
gone up to line Fifth Avenue and help cheer the visiting King of the
Belgians. So had such of the rest of Our Square as were not at work.
The place was practically deserted. Nevertheless, Plooie prowled about,
uttering his cracked and lugubrious cry in the forlorn hope of picking
up a parapluie to raccommode. I was one of the few left to hear him,
because Mendel, the jeweler, had most inconsiderately gone to view
royalty, leaving my unrepaired glasses locked in his shop; otherwise I,
too, would have been on the Fifth Avenue curb shouting with the best of
them. Do not misinterpret me. For the divinity that doth hedge a king I
care as little as one should whose forbears fought in the Revolution.
But for the divinity of high courage and devotion that certifies to the
image of God within man, I should have been proud to take off my old
but still glossy silk hat to Albert of the Belgians. So I was rather
cross, and it was well for my equanimity that the Bonnie Lassie, who
had remained at home for reasons which are peculiarly her own affair
and that of Cyrus the Gaunt, should have come over to my favorite bench
to cheer me up. Said the Bonnie Lassie:
“I wonder why Plooie didn't go to see his king.”
“Sense of shame,” I suggested acidly.
“Yes?” said the Bonnie Lassie in a tone which I mistrusted.
“It is no use,” I assured her, “for you to favor me with that
pitying and contemptuous smile of yours, for I can't see it. Mendel has
my nearer range of vision locked in his shop.”
“I was just thinking,” said the Bonnie Lassie in ruminant accents,
“how nice it must be to look back on a long life of unspotted
correctness with not an item in it to be ashamed of. It gives one such
a comfortable basis for sitting in judgment.”
“Her lips drip honey,” I observed, “and the poison of asps is under
“Your quotations are fatally mixed,” retorted my companion.
From across the park sounded Plooie's patient falsetto:
“Parapluie-ee-ee-ee-ees! Annie Oombrella for mend? Parapluie-ee-ee-"
The call broke off in a kind of choke.
“What's happened to Plooie?” I asked. “The youngsters can't have got
back from the parade already, have they?”
“A very tall man has stopped him,” said the Bonnie Lassie. “Plooie
has dropped his kit.... He's trying to salute.... It must be one of the
Belgian officers.... Oh, Dominie!”
“Well, what?” I demanded impatiently and cursed the recreant Mendel
in my heart.
“It can't be ... you don't think they can be arresting poor Plooie
at this late day for evading service?”
“Serve him right if they did,” said I.
“I believe they are. The big man has taken him by the arm and is
leading him along. Poor Plooie! He's all wilted down. It's a shame!”
cried the Bonnie Lassie, beginning to flame. “It ought not to be
“Probably they're taking him away. Do you see an official-looking
automobile anywhere about?”
“There's a strange car over on the Avenue. Oh, dear! Poor Annie
Oombrella! But—but they're not going there. They're going into
I could feel the Bonnie Lassie fidgeting on the bench. For a moment
I endured it. Then I said:
“Well, Lassie, why don't you?”
“Why don't I what?”
“Take your usual constitutional, over by the railings. Opposite
“That isn't my usual constitutional, and you know it, Dominie,” said
the Bonnie Lassie with dignity.
“Isn't it? Well, curiosity killed a cat, you know.”
“How shamelessly you garble! It was—”
“Never mind; the quotation is erroneous, anyway. It should be:
suppressed curiosity killed a cat.”
The Bonnie Lassie sniffed.
“Rather than be dislodged from my precarious perch on this bench,” I
pursued, “through the trembling imparted to it by your clinging to the
back to restrain yourself from going to see what is up, I should almost
prefer that you would go—and peek.”
“Dominie,” said the Bonnie Lassie, “you are a despicable old man....
I'll be back in a minute.”
“Don't stay long,” I pleaded. “Pity the blind.”
Her golden laughter floated back to me. But there was no mirth in
her voice when she returned.
“It's so dark in there I can hardly see. But the big man is sitting
on a pile of ribs talking to Plooie, and Annie Oombrella's face is all
swollen with crying. I saw it in the window for a minute.”
Pro and con we argued what the probable event might be and how we
could best meet it. So intent upon our discussion did we become that we
did not note the approach of a stranger until he was within a few paces
of the bench. With my crippled vision I apprehended him only as very
tall and straight and wearing a loose cape. The effect upon the Bonnie
Lassie of his approach was surprising. I heard her give a little gasp.
She got up from the bench. Her hand fell upon my shoulder. It was
trembling. Where, I wondered, had those two met and in what
circumstances, that the mere sight of the stranger caused such emotion
in the unusually self-controlled wife of Cyrus Staten. The man spoke
quickly in a deep and curiously melancholy voice:
“Madame perhaps does me the honor to remember me?”
“I—I—I—” began the Bonnie Lassie.
“The Comte de Tournon. At Trouville we met, was it not? Several
“Y-yes. Certainly. At Trouville.”
(Now I happen to know that the Bonnie Lassie has never been at
Trouville, which did not assuage my suspicions.)
“You are friends of my—countryman, Emile Garin, are you not?” he
pursued in his phraseology of extreme precision, with only the faint
echo of an accent.
“Who?” I said. “Oh, Plooie, you mean. Friends? Well, acquaintances
would be more accurate.”
“He tells me that you, Monsieur, befriended him when he had great
need of friends. And you, Madame, always. So I have come to thank you.”
“You are interested in Plooie?” I asked.
“Plooie?” he repeated doubtfully. I explained to him and he laughed
gently. “Profoundly interested,” he said. “I have here one of his
finest umbrellas which his good wife presented to me. There was also a
lady of whom he speaks, a grande dame, of very great authority.”
For all the sadness of the deep voice, I felt that his eyes were
“Madame Tallafferr,” supplied the Bonnie Lassie. “She is away on a
“I should like to have met that queller of mobs. She ought to be
“Knighthood would add nothing to her status,” said I, dryly. “She is
a Pinckney and a Pemberton besides being a Tallafferr, with two f_s,
two l_s, and two r_s.”
“Doubtless. I do not comprehend the details of your American orders
of merit,” said the big sad-voiced man courteously. “But I should have
been proud to meet her.”
“May I tell her that?” asked the Bonnie Lassie eagerly.
“By all means—when I am gone.” Again I felt the smile that must be
in the eyes. “But there were others here, not so friendly to the little
Garin. That is true, is it not?”
“Yes,” said the Bonnie Lassie.
“There is at least a strong suspicion that he is not a deserving
case,” I pointed out defensively.
“Then it is only because he does not explain himself well,” returned
the Belgian quickly.
“He does not explain himself at all,” I corrected. “Nor does Annie
“Ah? That will clarify itself, perhaps, in time. If you will bear
with me, I should like to tell you a little story to be passed on to
those who are not his friends. Will you not be seated, Madame?”
The Bonnie Lassie resumed her place on the bench. Standing before
us, the big man began to speak. Many times since have I wished that I
might have taken down what he said verbatim; so gracious it was, so
simple, so straightly the expression of a great and generous
“Emile Garin,” he said, “was a son of Belgium. He was poor and his
people were little folk of nothing-at-all. Moreover, they were dead. So
he came to your great country to make his living. When our enemies
invaded my country and the call went out to all sons of Belgium, the
little Garin was ashamed because he knew that he was physically unfit
for military service. But he tried. He tried everywhere. In the
mornings they must sweep him away from our Consul-General's doorsteps
here because otherwise he would not—You spoke, Monsieur?”
“Nothing. I only said, 'God forgive us!'“
“Amen,” said the narrator gravely. “Everywhere they rejected him as
unfit. So he became morbid. He hid himself away. Is it not so?”
“That is why they left Our Square so mysteriously,” confirmed the
“After that he hung about the docks. He saw his chance and crawled
into the hold of a vessel as a stowaway. He starved. It did not matter.
He was kicked. It did not matter. He was arrested. It did not matter.
Nothing mattered except that he should reach Belgium. And he did reach
my country at the darkest hour, the time when Belgium needed every man,
no matter who he was. But he could not be a soldier, the little Garin,
because he was unable to march. He had weak legs.”
At this point the eternal feminine asserted itself in the Bonnie
Lassie. “I told you there was something,” she murmured
“Hush!” said I.
“I am glad to find that he had one true defender here,” pursued the
biographer of Plooie. “Though he could not fight in the ranks there was
use for him. There was use for all true sons of Belgium in those black
days. He was made driver of a—a charette; I do not know if you have
them in your great city?” He paused, and I guessed that the rumble of
heavy wheels on the asphalt, heard near by, had come opportunely. “Ah,
yes; there is one.”
“A dump-cart,” supplied the Bonnie Lassie.
“Merci, Madame. A dump-cart. It is perhaps not an evidently glorious
thing to drive a dump-cart for one's country—unless one makes it so.
But it was the best the little Garin could do. His legs were what you
call quaint—I have already told you. He was faithful and hard-working.
They helped build roads near the front, the little Garin and his big
“Not precisely safety-first,” whispered the Bonnie Lassie to me,
“You are interrupting the story,” said I with dignity.
“One day he was driving a load of mud through a village street. Here
on this side is a hospital. There on that side is another hospital.
Down the middle of the road walks an idiot of a sergeant carrying a new
type of grenade with which we were experimenting. One moves a little
lever—so. One counts; one, two, three, four, five. One throws the
grenade, and at the count of ten, all about it is destroyed, for it is
of terrible power. The idiot sergeant sets down the grenade in the
middle of the road between the two hospitals full of the helplessly
wounded. For what? Perhaps to sneeze. Perhaps to light a cigarette.
Heaven only knows, for the sergeant has the luck to be killed next day
by a German shell, before he can be court-martialed. As he sets down
the grenade, the little lever is moved. The sergeant loses his head. He
runs, shouting to everybody to run also.
“But the hospitals, they cannot run. And the wounded, they cannot
run. They can only be still and wait. In the nearest hospital there is
a visitor. A great lady. A great and greatly loved lady.” The sad voice
deepened and softened.
“I know,” whispered the Bonnie Lassie; “I can guess.”
“Yes. But the little Garin, approaching on his big dump-cart, does
not know. He knows the danger, for he hears the shouts and sees the
people escaping. He sees the grenade, too. A man running past him
shouts, 'Turn your cart, you fool, and save yourself.' Oh, yes; he can
save himself. That is easy. But what of the people in the hospitals?
Who can save them? The little Garin thinks hard and swiftly. He drives
his big dump-cart over the grenade. He pulls the lever which dumps the
mud. The mud buries the grenade; much mud, very soft and heavy. The
grenade explodes, nevertheless.
“One mule blows through one hospital, one through another.
Everything near is covered with mud. The great lady is thrown to the
floor, but she is not hurt. She rises and attends the injured and calms
the terrified. The hospitals are saved. It is a glorious thing to have
driven a dump-cart for one's country—so.”
“But what became of our Plooie?” besought the Bonnie Lassie.
The big man spread his arms in a wide, Gallic gesture. “They looked
for him everywhere. No sign. But by and by some one saw a quite large
piece of mud on the hospital roof begin to wriggle. The little Garin
was that large piece of mud. They brought him down and put him in the
hospital which he had saved. For a long time he had shell-shock. Even
now he cannot speak of the war without his nerves being affected. When
he got out of hospital, he did not seem to know who he was. Or perhaps
he did not care. Shell-shock is a strange thing. He went away, and his
records were lost in the general confusion. Afterward we sought for
him. The great lady wished very much to see him. But we could find
nothing except that he had come back to this country. Official inquiry
was made here and he was traced to Our Square. So I came to see him.
Because he cannot speak for himself and will not allow his wife to tell
his story—it is part of the shell-shock which will wear off in time—I
came to speak for him.”
“Does your—do you do this sort of thing often?” asked the Bonnie
Lassie with a queer sort of resonance in her voice.
The big man answered, in a tone which suggested that he was smiling:
“One cannot visit all the brave men who suffered for Belgium. But there
is a special reason here, the matter of the great and greatly loved
lady whom the little Garin saved.”
“I see,” said the Bonnie Lassie softly.
After the big man had made his adieux, we sat silent for some
minutes. Presently she spoke; there was wonder and something else in
“Plooie!” she said, and that was all.
“You are crying,” I said.
“I'm not,” she retorted indignantly. “But you ought to be. For your
“If we all bewept our injustices,” said I oracularly, “Noah would
have to come back and build a new ark for a bigger flood than his.”
“What do you think of him?” said the Bonnie Lassie.
“As a weather-prophet, he was unequaled. As an expert
animal-breeder, his selections were at times ill-advised.”
“Don't be tiresome, Dominie. You know that I'm not interested in
“As to our romantic visitant,” I said, “I think that Cyrus the Gaunt
would better be watchful. I've never known anyone else except Cyrus to
produce such an emotional effect upon you.”
“Don't be school-girlish!” admonished the Bonnie Lassie severely.
“Poor old Dominie! He doesn't know what's going on under his very nose.
Where are your eyes?”
“In Mendel's top drawer, I suppose.... The question is how are we
going to make it up to Plooie?”
“I don't think you need worry about that,” returned the Bonnie
Nor was there any occasion for worry. Two days later there occurred
an irruption of dismaying young men with casual squares of paper in
their pockets, upon which they scratched brief notes. They were, I was
subsequently given to understand, the pick and flower of the city's
reportorial genius. (I could imagine the ghost of Inky Mike with his
important notebook and high-poised pencil, regarding with wonder and
disdain their quiet and unimpressive methods.) A freshly painted sign
across the front of Plooie's basement, was the magnet that drew them:
Emile Garin &Wife
Umbrella Mender &Porch Cleanser
The King of the Belgians
(By Royal Warranty)
No; Plooie and Annie Oombrella need no help from the humble now.
Their well-deserved fortune is made.
The months go by—bleak March and May-day heat—
Harvest is over—winter well-nigh done—
And still I say, “To-morrow we shall meet.”
The Little Red Doctor sat on the far end of my bench. Snow fringed
the bristling curve of his mustache. He shivered.
“Dominie,” said he, “it's a wild day.”
“Dominie,” said the Little Red Doctor, “it is no kind of a day for
an old man to be sitting on a bench.”
“Dominie,” persisted the Little Red Doctor, “you can't deny that
“Whose fault is that but yours?” I retorted.
“Don't try to flatter me,” said the Little Red Doctor. “You'd have
licked my old friend, Death, in that bout you had with him, without any
help of mine. And, anyway, you were already old, then. You're a tough
old bird, Dominie. Otherwise you wouldn't be sitting here in a March
blizzard staring at the Worth mansion and wondering what really
happened there three years ago.”
“Your old friend, Death, beat you that time,” said I maliciously.
The Little Red Doctor chose to ignore my taunt. “Look your fill,
Dominie,” he advised. “You won't have much more chance.”
“Why?” I asked, startled.
“The wreckers begin on it next month. Also a nice, new building is
going up next door to it on that little, secret, walled jungle that Ely
Crouch used to misname his garden. I'm glad of it, too. I don't like
“I'm an anachronism,” I returned. “You'll be one pretty soon. Our
Square is one solid anachronism.”
“It won't be much longer. The tide is undermining us. Other houses
will go as the Worth place is going. You'll miss it, Dominie. You love
houses as if they were people.”
It is true. To me houses are the only fabrications of man's hands
that are personalities. Enterprise builds the factory, Greed the
tenement, but Love alone builds the house, and by Love alone is it
maintained against the city's relentless encroachments. Once hallowed
by habitation, what warm and vivid influences impregnate it! Ambition,
pride, hope, joys happily shared; suffering, sorrow, and loss bravely
endured—the walls outlive them all, gathering with age, from grief and
joy alike, kind memories and stanch traditions. Yes, I love the old
houses. Yet I should not be sorry to see the Worth mansion razed. It
has outlived all the lives that once cherished it and become a dead,
That solid square of brown, gray-trimmed stone had grown old
honorably with the honorable generations of the Worths. Then it had
died. In one smiting stroke of tragedy the life had gone out of it. Now
it stood staring bleakly out from its corner with filmed eyes, across
the busy square. Passing its closed gates daily, I was always sensible
of a qualm of the spirit, a daunting prescience that the stilled
mansion still harbored the ghost of an unlaid secret.
The Little Red Doctor broke in upon my reverie.
“Yes; you're old, Dominie. But you're not wise. You're very foolish.
Foolish and obstinate.”
Knowing well what he meant, I nevertheless pampered him by asking:
“Why am I foolish and obstinate?”
“Because you refuse to believe that Ned Worth murdered Ely Crouch.
“Then why did Ned commit suicide?”
“I don't know.”
“How do you explain away his written confession?”
“I don't. I only know that it was not in Ned Worth's character
willfully to kill an old man. You were his friend; you ought to know it
as well as I do.”
“Ah, that's different,” said the Little Red Doctor, giving me one of
his queer looks. “Yes; you're a pig-headed old man, Dominie.”
“I'm a believer in character.”
“I don't know of any other man equally pig-headed, except possibly
one. He's old, too.”
“Gale Sheldon,” said I, naming the gentle, withered librarian of a
branch library a few blocks to the westward, the only other resident of
Our Square who had unfailingly supported me in my loyalty to the memory
of the last of the Worths.
“Yes. He's waiting for us now in his rooms. Will you come?”
Perceiving that there was something back of this—there usually is,
in the Little Red Doctor's maneuvers—I rose and we set out. As we
passed the Worth house it seemed grimmer and bleaker than ever before.
There was something savage and desperate in its desolation. The cold
curse of abandonment lay upon it. At the turn of the corner the Little
Red Doctor said abruptly.
“Who?” I demanded.
“The girl. The woman in the case.”
“In the Ely Crouch case? A woman? There was never any woman hinted
“No. And there never would have been as long as she was alive.
Now—Well, I'll leave Sheldon to explain her. He loved her, too, in his
In Gale Sheldon's big, still room, crowded with the friendly ghosts
of mighty books, a clear fire was burning. One shaded lamp at the desk
was turned on, for though it was afternoon the blizzard cast a gloom
like dusk. The Little Red Doctor retired to a far corner where he was
all but merged in the shadows.
“Have you seen this?” Sheldon asked me, pointing to the table.
Thereon was spread strange literature for the scholarly taste of our
local book-worm, a section from the most sensational of New York's
Sunday newspapers. From the front page, surrounded by a barbarous
conglomeration of headlines and uproarious type, there smiled happily
forth a face of such appealing loveliness as no journalistic vulgarity
could taint or profane. I recognized it at once, as any one must have
done who had ever seen the unforgettable original. It was Virginia
Kingsley, who, two years before, had been Sheldon's assistant. The
picture was labeled, “Death Ends Wanderlust of Mysterious Heiress,” and
the article was couched in a like style of curiosity-piquing
sensationalism. Stripped of its fulsome verbiage, it told of the girl's
recent death in Italy, after traveling about Europe with an invalid
sister; during which progress, the article gloated, she was “vainly
wooed by the Old World's proudest nobility for her beauty and wealth,”
the latter having been unexpectedly left her by an aged relative. Her
inexorable refusals were set down, by the romantic journalist, as due
to some secret and prior attachment. (He termed it an “affair de
Out of the welter of words there stood forth one sentence to tempt
the imagination: “She met death as a tryst.” For that brief flash the
reporter had been lifted out of his bathos and tawdriness into a
clearer element. One could well believe that she had “met death as a
tryst.” For if ever I have beheld unfaltering hope and unflagging
courage glorified and spiritualized into unearthly beauty, it was there
in that pictured face, fixed by the imperishable magic of the camera.
“No; I hadn't seen it,” I said after reading. “Is it true?”
“In part.” Then, after a pause, “You knew her, didn't you, Dominie?”
“Only by sight. She had special charge of the poetry alcove, hadn't
“Yes. She belonged there of right. She was the soul and fragrance of
all that the singers of springtime and youth have sung.” He sighed,
shaking his grizzled head mournfully. “'And all that glory now lies
dimmed in death.' It doesn't seem believable.”
He rose and went to the window. Through the whorls of snow could be
vaguely seen the outlines of the Worth house, looming on its corner. He
stared at it musing.
“I've often wondered if she cared for him,” he murmured.
“For him? For Worth!” I exclaimed in amazement. “Were they friends?”
“Hardly more than acquaintances, I thought. But she left very
strangely the day of his death and never came back.”
From the physician's corner there came an indeterminate grunt.
“If that is a request for further information, Doctor, I can say
that on the few occasions when they met here in the library, it was
only in the line of her duties. He was interested in the
twentieth-century poets. But even that interest died out. It was months
before the—the tragedy that he stopped coming to the Library.”
“It was months before the tragedy that he stopped going anywhere,
wasn't it?” I asked.
“Yes. Nobody understood it; least of all, his friends. I even heard
it hinted that he was suffering from some malady of the brain.” He
turned inquiringly to the far, dim corner.
Out of it the Little Red Doctor barked: “Death had him by the
“Death? In what form?”
“Slow, sure fingers, shutting off his breath. Do you need further
details or will the dry, scientific term, epithelioma, be enough?” The
voice came grim out of the gloom. No answer being returned, it
continued: “I've had easier jobs than telling Ned Worth. It was
hopeless from the first. My old friend, Death, had too long a start on
“Was it something that affected his mind?”
“No. His mind was perfectly clear. Vividly clear. May I take my last
verdict, when it comes, with a spirit as clear and as noble.”
Silence fell, and in the stillness we heard the Little Red Doctor
communing with memories. Now and then came a muttered word. “Suicide!”
in a snarl of scornful rejection. “Fool-made definitions!” Presently,
“Story for a romancer, not a physician.” He seemed to be canvassing an
inadequacy in himself with dissatisfaction. Then, more clearly: “Love
from the first. At a glance, perhaps. The contagion of flame for
powder. But in that abyss together they saw each other's soul.”
“The Little Red Doctor is turning poet,” said Sheldon to me in an
There was the snap and crackle of a match from the shadowed corner.
The keen, gnarled young face sprang from the darkness, vivid and
softened with a strange triumph, then receded behind an imperfect
circle, clouded the next instant by a nimbus of smoke. The Little Red
Ned Worth was my friend as well as my patient. No need to tell you
men, who knew him, why I was fond of him. I don't suppose any one ever
came in contact with that fantastic and smiling humanity of his without
loving him for it. “Immortal hilarity!” The phrase might have been
coined for him.
It wasn't as physician that I went home with Ned, after pronouncing
sentence upon him, but as friend. I didn't want him to be alone that
first night. Yet I dare say that any one, seeing the two of us, would
have thought me the one who had heard his life-limit defined. He was as
steady as a rock.
“No danger of my being a miser of life,” he said. “You've given me
leave to spend freely what's left of it.” Well, he spent. Freely and
The spacious old library on the second floor—you know it, Dominie,
smelt of disuse, as we entered, Ned's servant bringing up the rear with
a handbag. Dust had settled down like an army of occupation over
everything. The furniture was shrouded in denim. The tall clock in the
corner stood voiceless. Three months of desertion will change any house
into a tomb. And the Worth mansion was never too cheerful, anyway.
Since the others of the family died, Ned hadn't stayed there long
enough at a time to humanize it.
Ned's man set down the grip, unstrapped it, took his orders for some
late purchases, and left to execute them. I went over to open the two
deep-set windows on the farther side of the room. It was a still, close
October night, and the late scent of warmed-over earth came up to me
out of Ely Crouch's garden next door. From where I stood in the broad
embrasure of the south window, I was concealed from the room. But I
could see everything through a tiny gap in the hangings. Ned sat at his
desk sorting some papers. A sort of stern intentness had settled upon
his face, without marring its curious faun-like beauty. I carry the
picture in my mind.
“What's become of you, Chris?” he demanded presently. I came out
into the main part of the room. “Oh, there you are! You'll look after a
few little matters for me, won't you?” He indicated a sheaf of papers.
“You needn't be in such a hurry,” said I with illogical resentment.
“It isn't going to be to-morrow or next week.”
“Isn't it?” Something in his tone made me look at him sharply. “Six
months or three months or to-morrow,” he added, more lightly; “what
does it matter as long as it's sure! You know, what I appreciate is
that you gave me the truth straight.”
“It's a luxury few of my patients get. Their constitutions won't
“It's a compliment to my nerve. Strangely enough I don't feel
nervous about it.”
“I do. Damnably! About something, anyway. There's something wrong
with this room, Ned. What is it?”
“Don't you know?” he laughed. “It's the sepulchral silence of Old
Grandfather Clock, over there. You're looking right at him and
wondering subconsciously why he doesn't make a noise like Time.”
“That's easily remedied.” Consulting my watch I set and wound the
ancient timepiece. Its comfortable iteration made the place at once
more livable. Immediately it struck the hour.
“Ten o'clock,” I said, and parted the draperies at the lower window
to look out again. “Ten o'clock of a still, cloudy night and—and the
devil is on a prowl in his garden.”
“Meaning my highly respected neighbor and ornament to the local bar,
the Honorable Ely Crouch?”
“Exactly. Preceded by a familiar spirit in animal form.”
“Oh, that's his pet ferret and boon companion.”
“Not his only companion. There's some one with him,” I said. “A
“I don't admire her taste in romance,” said Ned.
“Nor her discretion. You know what they say: 'A dollar or a woman
never safe alone with Ely Crouch.'“
“My dollars certainly weren't,” observed Ned.
“How did he ever defend your suit for an accounting?” I asked.
“Heedlessness on my side, a crooked judge on his. Stop spying on my
neighbor's flirtations and look here.”
I turned and got a shock. The handbag lay open on the desk,
surrounded by a respectable-sized fortune in bank-notes.
“Pretty much all that the Honorable Ely has left me,” he added.
“Is it enough to go on with, Ned?” I asked.
He smiled at me. “Plenty for my time. You forget.”
For the moment I had forgotten. “But what on earth are you going to
do with all that ready cash?”
“Carry out a brilliant idea. I conceived it after you had handed
down your verdict. Went around to the bank and quietly drew out the
lot. I've planned a wild and original orgy. A riot of dissipation in
giving. Think of the fun one can have with that much tangible money.
Already to-day I've struck one man dumb and reduced another to mental
decay, by the simple medium of a thousand-dollar bill. Miracles!
Declare a vacation, Chris, and come with me on my secret and jubilant
bat, and we'll work wonders.”
“And after?” I asked.
“Oh, after! Well, there'll be no further reason for the 'permanent
possibility of sensation' on my part. That's your precious science's
best definition of life, I believe. It doesn't appeal to one as
alluring when the sensation promises to become—well, increasingly
There was no mistaking his meaning. “I can't have that, my son,” I
“No? That's a purely professional prejudice of yours. Look at it
from my point of view. Am I to wait to be strangled by invisible hands,
rather than make an easy and graceful exit? Suicide! The word has no
meaning for a man in my condition. If you'll tell me there's a chance,
one mere, remote human chance—” He paused, turning to me with what was
almost appeal in his glance. How I longed to lie to him! But Ned Worth
was the kind that you can't lie to. I looked at him standing there so
strong and fine, with all the mirthful zest of living in his veins,
sentenced beyond hope, and I thought of those terrible lines of another
man under doom:
“I never saw a man who looked
So wistfully at the day.”
We medical men learn to throw a protective film over our feelings,
like the veil over the eagle's eye. We have to. But I give you my word,
I could not trust my voice to answer him.
“You see,” he said; “you can't.” His hand fell on my arm. “I'm
sorry, Chris,” he said in that winning voice of his; “I shouldn't
plague you for something that you can't give me.”
“I can tell you this, anyway,” said I: “that it's something less
than courage to give up until the time comes. You didn't give your
life. You haven't the right to take it; anyway, not until its last
usefulness is over.”
He made a movement of impatience.
“Oh, I'm not asking you to endure torture. I'd release you myself
from that, if it comes to it, in spite of man-made laws. But how can
you tell that being alive instead of dead next week or next month may
not make an eternal difference to some other life? Your part isn't
played out yet. Who are you to say how much good you may yet do before
the curtain is rung down?”
“Or how much evil! Well, as a suitable finish, suppose I go down
into that garden and kill Ely Crouch,” he suggested, smiling. “That
would be a beneficial enough act to entitle me to a prompt and peaceful
death, wouldn't it?”
“Theoretically sound, but unfortunately impracticable,” I answered,
relieved at his change of tone.
“I suppose it is.” He looked at me, still smiling, but intent.
“Chris, what do you believe comes after?”
“A hard word for cowards. What do I believe, I wonder? At any rate,
in being sport enough to play the game through. You're right, old
hard-shell. I'll stick it out. It will only mean spending this
“—he swept the money back into its repository—“a little more slowly.”
“I was sure I could count on you,” I said. “Now I can give you the
talisman.” I set on the desk before him a small pasteboard box. “Pay
strict attention. You see that label? That's to remind you. One tablet
if you can't sleep.”
“I couldn't last night.”
“Two if the pain becomes more than you can stand.”
“But three at one time and you'll sleep so sound that nothing will
ever awaken you.”
“Good old Chris!” Opening the box, he fingered the pellets
curiously. “A blessed thing, your science! Three and the sure sleep.”
“On trust, Ned.”
“On honor,” he agreed. “Then I mustn't expunge old Crouch? It's a
disappointment,” he added gayly.
He pushed the box away from him and crossed over to the upper
window. His voice came to me from behind the enshrouding curtains.
“Our friend has finished his promenade. The air is the sweeter for
it. I'll stay here and breathe it.”
“Good!” said I. “I've five minutes of telephoning to do. Then I'll
Nobody can ever tell me again that there's an instinct which feels
the presence of persons unseen. On my way to the door I passed within
arm's-length of a creature tense and pulsating with the most desperate
emotions. I could have stretched out a hand and touched her as she
crouched, hidden in the embrasure of the lower window. It would seem as
if the whole atmosphere of the room must have been surcharged with the
terrific passion of her newborn and dreadful hopes. And I
felt—nothing. No sense, as I brushed by, of the tragic and
concentrated force of will which nerved and restrained her. I went on,
and out unconscious. Afterward she was unable to tell me how long she
had been there. It must have been for some minutes, for what roused her
from her stupor of terror was the word “Suicide.” It was like an echo,
a mockery to her, at first; and then, as she listened with passionate
attention to what followed, my instructions about the poison took on
the voice of a ministering providence. The draperies had shut off the
view of Ned, nor had she recognized his voice, already altered by the
encroachments of the disease. But she heard him walk to the upper
window, and saw me pass on my way to the telephone, and knew that the
moment had come. From what she told me later, and from that to which I
was a mazed witness on my return, I piece together the events which so
A wind had risen outside or Ned might have heard the footsteps
sooner. As it was, when he stepped out from behind the draperies of the
upper window those of the lower window were still waving, but the swift
figure had almost reached the desk. The face was turned from him. Even
in that moment of astonishment he noticed that she carried her left arm
close to her body, with a curious awkwardness.
“Hello!” he challenged.
She cried out sharply, and covered the remaining distance with a
rush. Her hand fell upon the box of pellets. She turned, clutching that
little box of desperate hopes to her bosom.
“Good God! Virginia!” he exclaimed. “Miss Kingsley!”
“Mr. Worth! Was it you I heard? Why—how are you here?”
“This is my house.”
“I didn't know.” Keeping her eyes fixed upon him like a watchful
animal, she slowly backed to interpose the table between herself and a
possible interference. Her arm, still stiffly pressed to her side,
impeded her fumbling efforts to open the box. Presently, however, the
He measured the chances of intervention, and abandoned the hope. His
brain hummed with a thousand conjectures, a thousand questions
centering upon her obvious and preposterous purpose. Suddenly, as her
fingers trembled among the tablets, his thoughts steadied and his
stratagem was formed.
“What do you want with my tonic?” he asked coolly.
“Tonic? I—I thought—”
“You thought it was the poison. Well, you've got the wrong box. The
poison box is in the drawer.”
“In the drawer,” she repeated. She spoke in the mechanical voice of
one desperately intent upon holding the mind to some vital project. Her
nerveless hands fumbled at the side of the desk.
He crossed quickly, caught up the box which she had just
relinquished, and dropped it into his pocket.
“Oh!” she moaned, and stared at him with stricken and accusing eyes.
“Then it was the poison!”
“Give it back to me!” she implored, like a bereft child. “Oh, give
it to me!”
“Why do you want to kill yourself?”
She looked at him in dumb despair.
“How did you get here?” he demanded.
“Your fire escape.”
“And to that from the garden wall, I suppose? So you were Ely
Crouch's companion,” he cried with a changed voice.
“Don't,” she shuddered, throwing her right arm over her face.
“I beg your pardon,” he said gently. “Take a swallow of this water.
What's the matter with your arm? Are you hurt?”
“No.” Her eyes would not meet his. They were fixed obstinately upon
the pocket into which he had dropped the poison.
“It's incredible!” he burst out. “You with your youth and
loveliness! With everything that makes life sweet for yourself and
others. What madness—” He broke off and his voice softened into
persuasion. “We were almost friends, once. Can't I—won't you let me
help? Don't you think you can trust me?”
She raised her eyes to his, and he read in them hopeless terror.
“Yes, I could trust you. But there is only one help for me now. And
you've taken it from me.”
“Who can tell? You've been badly frightened,” he said in as soothing
a tone as he could command. “Try to believe that no harm can come to
you here, and that I—I would give the blood of my heart to save you
from harm or danger. You said you could trust me. What was your errand
with Ely Crouch?”
“Money!” he repeated, drawing back.
“It was our own; my sister's and mine. Mr. Crouch had it. He had
managed our affairs since my father's death. I could never get an
accounting from him. To-day the doctor told me that Alice must go away
at once for an operation. And to-day Mr. Crouch made this appointment
“Didn't you know his reputation? Weren't you afraid?”
“I didn't think of fear. When I told him how matters stood, he
offered me money, but—but—Oh, I can't tell you!”
“No need,” he said quickly. “I know what he is. I was joking when I
spoke of killing him, a little while ago. By God, I wish I had killed
him! It isn't too late now.”
“It is too late.”
Her eyes, dilated, were fixed upon his.
“Why? How—too late?” he stammered.
“I killed him.”
“He had a cane,” she said, in a hurried, flat, half-whisper. “When
he caught at me, I tried to get it to defend myself. The handle pulled
out. There was a dagger on it. He came at me again. I didn't realize
what I was doing. All I could see was that hateful face drawing nearer.
Then it changed and he seemed to dissolve into a hideous heap. I didn't
mean to kill him.” Her voice rose in the struggle against hysteria.
“God knows, I didn't mean to kill him.”
His hands fell on her shoulders and held her against the onset.
Energy and resolution quickened in his eyes. “Who knows of your being
in the garden?”
“Any one see you climb the wall and come here?”
“Or know that you had an appointment with him?”
“Will you do exactly as I tell you?”
“What is the use?” she said dully.
“I'm going to get you out of here.”
“I should have to face it later. I couldn't face it—the horror and
shame of it. I'd rather die a thousand times.” She lifted her arms, the
coat opened, and the cane-handled blade dropped to the floor, and
rolled. She shuddered away from it. “I kept that for myself, but I
couldn't do it. It's got his blood on it. When I heard the doctor speak
of the poison, it seemed like a miracle of Providence sent to guide me.
Oh, give it to me! Is it”—she faltered—“is it quick?”
“Steady!” Stooping he picked up the weapon. “It needn't come to
that, if you can play your part. Have you got the courage to walk out
of this house and go home to safety? Absolute safety!”
She searched his face in bewilderment. “I—don't know.”
“If I give you my word of honor that it depends only on yourself?”
“Pull yourself together. Go downstairs quietly. Turn to your left.
You'll see a door. It opens on the street. Walk out with your head up,
and go home. You're as safe as though you'd never seen Ely Crouch.
There's no clue to you.”
“No clue! Look down the fire escape!”
He crossed the room at a bound. Beneath him, its evil snout pointed
upwards, sat the dead man's familiar spirit.
“Good God! The ferret!”
“It's been sitting there, watching, watching, watching.”
“The more reason for haste. Pull yourself together. Forward,
march!” he cried, pressing his will upon her.
“But you? When they come what will you say to them?”
“I'll fix up something.” He drew back from the window, lowering his
voice. “Men in the garden. A policeman.”
“They've found him!” She fell into Ned's chair, dropping her head in
her hands. For an instant he studied her. Then he took his great and
tender resolution. His hand fell warm and firm on her shoulder.
“Listen; suppose they suspect some one else?”
“You? Why should they?”
“Circumstances. The place. The weapon here in my possession. My
known trouble with Ely Crouch. Don't you see how it all fits in?”
She recovered from the stupor of surprise into which his suggestion
had plunged her. “Are you mad? Do you think that I'd let you sacrifice
yourself? What am I to you that you should do this for me?”
“The woman I love,” he said quietly. “I have loved you from the
first day that I saw you.”
It was at this moment that I returned and halted at the door, an
unwilling witness to the rest, only half understanding, not daring to
move. I saw the splendid color mount and glorify her beauty. I saw her
hands go out to him half in appeal, half in rejection.
“Oh, it's madness!” she cried. “It's your life you're offering me.”
“What else should I offer you—you who have given life its real
meaning for me?”
He caught her hands in his and held them. He caught her eyes in his
and held them. Then he began speaking, evenly, soothingly,
persuasively, binding her to his will.
“What does my life amount to? Think how little it means. A few more
weeks of waiting. Then the suffering: then the release. You heard Dr.
Smith. You know. You understand. Didn't you understand?”
“Yes,” she breathed.
“Then you must see what a splendid way out this is for me. No more
waiting. No pain. Death never came to any one so kindly before. It's my
chance, if only you'll make it worth while. Will you?” he pleaded.
“Oh, the wonder of it!” she whispered, gazing on him with parted
lips. But he did not understand, yet. He pressed what he thought to be
“Here,” he cried, suddenly dropping her hands and catching up the
bills from the valise. “Here's safety. Here's life. For you and your
sister, both. You spoke of Providence a moment ago. Here's Providence
for you! Quick! Take it.”
“What is it?” she asked, drawing away as he sought to thrust the
money into her hands.
“Twenty thousand dollars. More. It doesn't matter. It's life for
both of you. Have you the right to refuse it? Take it and go.”
She let the bank-notes fall from her hands unnoticed.
“Do you think I would leave you now?” she cried in a voice of
thrilled music. “Even if they weren't sure to trace me, as they would
This last she uttered as an unimportant matter dismissed with
“There will be nothing to trace. My confession will cover the
“Confession? To what?”
“To the murder of Ely Crouch.”
Some sort of sound I was conscious of making. I suppose I gasped.
But they were too engrossed to hear.
“You would do even that? But the penalty—the shame—”
“What do they matter to a dying man?” he retorted impatiently.
She had fallen back from him, in the shock of his suggestion, but
now she came forward again slowly, her glorious eyes fixed on his. So
they stood face to face, soul to soul, deep answering unto deep, and,
as I sit here speaking, I saw the wonder and the miracle flower in her
face. When she spoke again, her words seemed the inevitable expression
of that which had passed silently between them.
“Do you love me?”
“Before God I do,” he answered.
“Take me away! There's time yet. I'll go with you anywhere,
anywhere! I'm all yours. I've loved you from the first, I think, as you
have loved me. All I ask is to live for you, and when you die, to die
Fire flashed from his face at the call. He took a step toward her. A
shout, half-muffled, sounded from outside the window. Instantly the
light and passion died in his eyes. I have never seen a face at once so
stern and so gentle as his was when he caught the outreaching hands in
“You forget that they must find one of us, or it's all no use.
Listen carefully, dear one. If you truly love me, you must do as I bid
you. Give me my chance of fooling fate; of making my death worth while.
It won't be hard.” He took the little box from his pocket. “It will be
“Give it to me, too,” she pleaded like a child. “Ah, Ned, we can't
part now! Both of us together.”
He shook his head, smiling. The man's face was as beautiful as a
god's at that moment or an angel's. “You must go back to your sister,”
he said simply. “You haven't the right to die.”
He turned to the table, drew a sheet of paper to him and wrote four
words. You all know what they were; his confession. Then his hand went
up, a swift movement, and a moment later he was setting back the glass
of water upon the desk whence he had taken it.
“Love and glory of my life, will you go?” he said.
“Yes,” she whispered.
Not until then did the paralysis, which had gripped me when I saw
Ned turn the pellets into his hand, relax. I ran forward. The girl
cried out. Ned met me with his hand against my breast.
“How much have you heard?” he said quickly.
“Then you'll understand.” His faith was more irresistible than a
thousand arguments. “Take her home, Chris.”
I held out my hand. “Come,” I said.
She turned and faced him. “Must I? Alone?” What a depth of
desolation in that word!
“There is no other way, dearest one.”
“Good-bye, then, until we meet,” she said in the passionate music of
her voice. “Every beat of my heart will bring me nearer to you. There
will be no other life for me. Soon or late I'll come to you. You
believe it. Say you believe it!”
“I believe it.” He bent and kissed her lips. Then his form slackened
away from the arms that clasped it, and sank into the chair. A
policeman's whistle shrilled outside the window. The faintest flicker
of a smile passed over the face of the sleeper.
I took her away, still with that unearthly ecstasy on her face.
* * * * *
The glow of the narrator's cigar waxed, a pin-point of light in a
world of dimness and mystery. Subdued breathing made our silence
rhythmic. When I found my voice, it was hardly more than a whisper.
“Good God! What a tragedy!”
“Tragedy? You think it so?” The Little Red Doctor's gnarled face
gleamed strangely behind the tiny radiance. “Dominie, you have a queer
notion of this life and little faith in the next.”
“'She met death as a tryst,'“ murmured the old librarian. “And he!
'Trailing clouds of glory!' The triumph of that victory over fate! One
would like to have seen the meeting between them, after the waiting.”
The Little Red Doctor rose. “When some brutal and needless tragedy
of the sort that we medical men witness so often shakes my faith in my
kind, I turn to think of those two in the splendor of their last
meeting on earth, the man with the courage to face death, the woman
with the courage to face life.”
He strode over to the table and lifted the newspaper, which had
slipped to the floor unnoticed. The girlish face turned toward us its
irresistible appeal, yearning out from amidst the lurid indignities of
“You heard from her afterward?” I asked.
“Often. The sister died and left her nothing to live for but her
promise. Always in her letters sounded the note of courage and of
waiting. It was in the last word I had from her—received since her
death—set to the song of some poet, I don't know who. You ought to
know, Mr. Sheldon.”
His deep voice rose to the rhythm.
“Ah, long-delayed to-morrow! Hearts that beat
Measure the length of every moment gone.
Ever the suns rise tardily or fleet
And light the letters on a churchyard stone.—
And still I say, 'To-morrow we shall meet!'“
“May Probyn,” the librarian identified. “Too few people know her. A
Silence fell again, folding us and our thoughts in its kindly
refuge. Rising, I crossed to the window and drew the curtain aside. A
surging wind had swept the sky clear, all but one bank of low-lurking,
western cloud shot through with naming crimson. In that luminous
setting the ancient house across Our Square, grim and bleak no longer
to my eyes, gleamed, through eyes again come to life, with an
inconceivable glory. Behind me in the shadow, the measured voice of the
witness to life and death repeated once more the message of
“And still I say, 'To-morrow we shall meet.'“